After enduring a few frustrating seasons together in the NL Central, the red-hot Alfonso Soriano and former teammate Ryan Dempster find themselves back in the playoff hunt with their respective AL East clubs.
Soriano looks to continue his recent tear at the plate Sunday night as the visiting New York Yankees conclude a three-game set against the division-leading Boston Red Sox.
Soriano and Dempster helped lead the Chicago Cubs to the postseason in 2007 and 2008 before being part of three consecutive losing seasons from 2010-12. Dempster was traded to Texas on July 31 of last year before signing with Boston this offseason, and New York (63-59) acquired Soriano for minor league pitcher Corey Black and cash July 26.
Soriano, who spent the first five years of his career with the Yankees, has already made a big impact during his second stint with the club. The seven-time All-Star is 15 for 22 with five homers and 18 RBIs in his last five games for New York, which still has three teams between it and the second wild-card spot.
"It's fun to watch the way he's adjusted right away," second baseman Robinson Cano said. "He was in the National League for six years and to come back to the American League and swing the bat the way he is, is unbelievable, especially right when we need him."
Soriano collected two more hits and a stolen base Saturday, but New York went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position in a 6-1 defeat. The Yankees have dropped five of seven to Boston (73-52), which snapped a three-game skid behind Jacoby Ellsbury's two RBIs and David Ortiz's team-leading 24th homer.
The Red Sox now give the ball to Dempster (6-8, 4.50 ERA), who is 1-0 despite a 6.00 ERA in his last six starts - all Boston wins.
His latest was by far the best of that rough stretch. Dempster held Toronto to a run and four hits over seven innings Tuesday in a 4-2, 11-inning victory.
"I felt like I was able to make pitches when I was behind in the count, which is huge," Dempster said. "I had a real good split."
Dempster hasn't had any success against the Yankees over the course of his career, going 0-5 with a 6.98 ERA and 26 walks in seven starts spanning 38 2-3 innings.
The Yankees counter with CC Sabathia (10-10, 4.66), who won for the first time since July 3 with Tuesday's 14-7 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. The left-hander walked a career high-tying six but managed to limit the damage, yielding three runs - two earned - and three hits in six innings.
"I felt like I had pretty good stuff ... but it was just a battle," said Sabathia, who had an 8.33 ERA over his previous five starts.
Sabathia is 3-4 with a 6.51 ERA over his last nine starts against the Red Sox. He's given up at least six earned runs in five of those outings, and was tagged for a season worst-tying seven earned in five innings in an 8-7, 11-inning loss at Fenway Park on July 21.
Dustin Pedroia is 13 for 24 with three doubles versus Sabathia since 2011, and Ellsbury is 8 for 20 with a homer. Ortiz, though, is 5 for his last 29 with 10 strikeouts in their matchups.
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli is uncertain to be available after sitting out Saturday with a sore left foot. Napoli is 9 for 24 with three homers and 10 RBIs in his last six games against the Yankees.