The New York Yankees clinched the American League East title with a doubleheader sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. Believe it or not, that was good news for the Boston Red Sox who begin a 3-game set in the Bronx against their hated rivals on Friday.
Red Sox fans are certainly never happy to hear "Yankees" and "win" in the same sentence. And bettors who are left holding worthless AL East tickets on Boston aren't too pleased.
But New York's twinbill broom job over Tampa Bay did help the Red Sox maintain a 2.5-game lead in the AL Wild Card race over both the Rays and Angels heading into play Thursday. The series finale between the Yanks and Rays was still pending with Tampa Bay -140 on the MLB odds board behind rookie fireballer Matt Moore.
A second benefit to Boston in New York sewing the division up could come this weekend when Yankees manager Joe Girardi is likely to start resting some of his regulars.
Now, if Mother Nature will cooperate, the Red Sox could be set to take back real control of their playoff hopes in Friday's series opener in New York (7:05 p.m. ET). Boston will send Jon Lester to the mound, with the southpaw looking for his third win in as many starts this season at Yankee Stadium.
Lester (16-13, 3.15) will be out to stop a short 2-game skid when he hits the bump, both of the losing starts coming against the Rays. He surrendered eight runs, all earned, in the 11 combined innings against Tampa Bay, and the Sox have won just once in Lester's four September outings.
Boston has also dropped Lester's last two assignments against the Yankees, both of those games taking place at Fenway Park. He faced the Yankees twice here in New York over about a three week span back in May-June, and while he was far from untouchable (12 IP, 7 ER), Lester picked up the win both times.
Who Lester faces in Friday's contest remains a bit of a mystery with New York yet to name its starting hurler. Wednesday's doubleheader and Phil Hughes' recent back trouble have Girardi's rotation in flux, and it's unclear if Freddy Garcia (14-10, 3.77) will take his regular turn in this game.
Garcia has posted something akin to batting practice stats his last three starting assignments, with New York's lineup bailing him out on two of those occasions. The opposition has accumulated 21 hits off Garcia in his last 12 1/3 innings, six of those going into the bleachers, plus six walks.
The right-hander has also taken a beating twice this season at home against Boston, serving up three homers and allowing eight earned runs in the seven combined innings.
Girardi used eight different hurlers in Wednesday's first game against the Rays after Hughes wasn't able to answer the call. The Yankees skipper could resort to something similar on Friday night if he wants to skip Garcia's turn.
There's also the issue of rain to consider, with the current forecast calling for a 70-80 percent chance of precipitation in the Big Apple on Friday. Temperatures are expected to hover in the upper-60s most of the day.
The series continues Saturday afternoon in a FOX broadcast. Tim Wakefield gets the call for Terry Francona's club against New York's AJ Burnett. Neither team has made an official announcement regarding their starters in Sunday's finale.