New York, which stands one game ahead of Baltimore in the American League East and two games ahead of the Rays after splitting a four-game series with the Orioles this weekend, has seen a 10-game advantage in the division dwindle in the last month and a half. But a showdown with the scuffling Red Sox could provide the Yankees the reprieve they need amid a grueling early-September slate.
The Bombers are in the middle of a critical stretch of their late season, which includes the just-completed four-game series in Baltimore, this three-game set in Boston and then three games against the Rays in New York next weekend.
The Red Sox, without the offense of Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz -- and the departure of Adrian Gonzalez -- have lost 11 of their past 12 and are just 10-27 since Aug. 1.
"We are lacking the real threat of that home run guy," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Most teams have a couple of them. We're lacking right now. We have guys who will hit home runs before the end of the year."
Boston will turn to left-hander Jon Lester for the series opener on Tuesday at Fenway Park, as he looks to earn his fifth win in his last six outings. Lester is 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA this year against New York, but 9-4 with a 4.23 ERA in his career.
In his last start, the southpaw scattered nine hits and three earned runs over six innings to beat the Mariners.
"I just couldn't really get into a rhythm, just kind of battling myself again tonight, throwing a lot of balls," Lester said afterward. "Took us a while to figure out what they were doing. They did a good job of laying off some really good cutters and took us awhile to kind of figure out what we needed to do from there and change our game plan. After that we were able to settle down a little bit and get some weaker contact."
New York will counter with Hiroki Kuroda, who will be making his fifth career start against Boston and third at Fenway. The righty is 10-4 with a 2.58 ERA over 19 starts since May 27, and beat the Rays in his last start when he gave up four earned runs in six innings on eight hits.
"Although I gave up some runs, I just wanted to minimize the damage, and somewhat, I was able to do that," Kuroda said through an interpreter after his outing.
Yankees: Teixeira to have MRI on Monday
First baseman Mark Teixeira, who did not play in Sunday's series finale in Baltimore, is scheduled to have an MRI on his ailing left calf on Monday in New York and will probably be unavailable for the Boston series, manager Joe Girardi said on Sunday.
Teixeira is hitting .255 with 23 home runs and 81 RBIs this season, and is 10-for-39 with four homers and 18 RBIs against Boston this season. That's tied for his most homers against a single opponent this year (also four against the Angels) and his most RBIs against one team.
Teixeira said he felt discomfort in his leg when he ran to first base in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 5-4 loss to the Orioles on Saturday, and said he told head athletic trainer Steve Donohue that his calf "doesn't feel right." The injury has already cost him 10 games before he returned to the lineup Saturday.
Girardi said he was becoming concerned that Teixeira might be done for the season.
"There's basically three and a half weeks [remaining], and if it does go back to square one, then I really wonder," Girardi said.
Red Sox: Nava returns from disabled list
Boston activated outfielder Daniel Nava from the 15-day disabled list (left wrist sprain) on Sunday, and a pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth inning was his first appearance since Aug. 25. He had been on the DL since Aug. 22, his second stint of the season after also missing time from July 29-Aug. 19.
Nava has played in 68 games for the Red Sox this season, batting .249 with 17 doubles, four home runs, 27 RBIs, 32 runs and 32 walks. He's also played 29 games for Triple-A Pawtucket, batting .313.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has hit safely in 30 of his last 33 games since Aug. 5, batting .364 (48-for-132) in that time and raising his overall average from .262 to 289.
Scott Podsednik has hit safely in 15 of 17 starts in Boston this year, including 10 multihit efforts. He is 26-for-65 in 19 total games at Fenway Park this season.
Lester averaged 9.54 strikeouts per nine innings when he faces the Yankees, his second-highest rate against any AL club.
The series in Boston wraps up the Yankees' longest road trip of the season (in games) after dropping two of three against Tampa Bay and splitting a four-game set in Baltimore.
The Red Sox and Yankees -- along with the other 28 teams around baseball -- will wear an American flag patch embroidered on the side of their caps on Tuesday to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Teams will also use special lineup cards and base jewels, and the "We Shall Not Forget" MLB silhouette banner will be on display in every ballpark around the country.