Late-summer series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees typically carry a postseason buzz about them.
Not this year.
While the Yankees own a healthy lead atop the AL East, three games against Boston may appear to be a bit of a breather for New York when the Red Sox limp into the Bronx three games below .500 on Friday night.
The Yankees (70-48) enter this series with a six-game division lead over Baltimore and sporting the AL's best record after taking three of four from West leader Texas, though they fell 10-6 in Thursday's finale. Ichiro Suzuki went 3 for 3 and Andruw Jones had a two-run homer, but New York failed to complete the sweep and suffered its second loss in nine games.
"It's going to happen. Our guys aren't going to be perfect out there,'' manager Joe Girardi said.
Perfect they're not, but the Red Sox (58-61) would gladly trade places with New York right now. Boston is 3-4 on its current road trip after avoiding a sweep with a 6-3 win over the Orioles on Thursday, has dropped 16 of 26 and is three games below .500 at its latest point in a season since 1997 - the last time the Red Sox finished with a losing record.
The Yankees' two most recent losses prior to Thursday were charged to Phil Hughes (11-10, 4.44 ERA), whose turn comes up again Friday. The right-hander failed to make it out of the fifth inning of either of those outings.
Hughes matched a season high with seven runs allowed in four innings of Sunday's 10-7 defeat at Toronto. He may benefit from a return home, where he's 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his last five starts. One of those wins was a 10-3 triumph over Boston on July 27, when he gave up three runs - all on solo homers to Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia - over seven innings.
After the Red Sox got eight strong innings from Clay Buchholz in Thursday's victory, they'll give the ball to Franklin Morales (3-3, 3.29) for the series opener in the Bronx.
The left-hander's worst start of the season came against the Yankees on July 7, when he surrendered six runs in 3 1-3 innings of a 6-1 defeat. Morales has given up seven home runs in 2012, and four came in that contest alone - two by Jones, one by Nick Swisher and one by Jayson Nix.
That outing came at Fenway Park, though, and Morales has been much better on the road. He has a 1.86 ERA in 16 appearances - four starts - away from Boston, including two hitless innings of relief at Yankee Stadium on July 27.
The Red Sox dropped that contest 10-3. Boston went on to win the final two games of that series, but New York has taken six of nine meetings in the 2012 edition of this rivalry, averaging 7.4 runs per contest while swatting 23 home runs.
Swisher is 11 for 26 (.423) with three homers, three doubles and 12 RBIs versus Boston this season.
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira has four homers and 18 RBIs in the season series but won't be in the starting lineup Friday due to a sore wrist. He doesn't expect to miss more than a game or two.
Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury served as designated hitter instead of patrolling center field Thursday, but both he and manager Bobby Valentine indicated the move was a precaution.
"The last couple days we have been concerned about a leg situation," Valentine said. "This is just being overcautious and aware of the situation.''
The nine games between the Yankees and Red Sox this season have taken an average of 3 hours, 30 minutes to play. Only one of them was completed in less than three hours.