Series Preview: Yankees (62-38) @ Red Sox (60-41)

Just two and a half games separate the Yankees and the Red Sox atop the American League East standings. Those two and a half games will be all the margin of error the Yankees will have to work with as they head to Boston for a three-game series at Fenway Park. The good news for the Yanks is that they are about to be whole once more. Nick Johnson is scheduled to return to the lineup in time for the series.

Johnson has been on the disabled list since May 17 with a stress fracture in his hand. Since his injury, the Yanks have been struggling to fill the hole he left in the batting order. Ruben Sierra was acquired from Texas as a left-handed power bat, as was Karim Garcia who came over from Cleveland. With Johnson back – he will DH on Friday – the Yankees get a power bat and a good eye back in the bottom of the lineup.

The Yanks split their last series with the Baltimore Orioles, winning the first game behind Andy Pettitte before losing to Sidney Ponson. The rainout of Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays pushed the rotation back a day, meaning that the rematch of Mussina vs. Pedro wouldn't happen this time around.

Boston is the best-hitting team in the majors with a .295 average and .863 OPS (on-base + slugging percentage). Even more disturbing for Yankees pitchers is that the Red Sox are hitting a lofty .329 at Fenway. The Red Sox are a very dangerous team, and would be in first place in almost any other division. They should not be taken lightly, especially not when Pedro is on the mound as he will be Friday.

Whenever the Yanks and Red Sox match up for a series, baseball fans around the world should rejoice. These two teams always have competitive and fun games, and the best part is that either team could always win. The Yankees will be happy taking two of three from the Sox on their home turf, but even getting one win would make sure that the Yanks are still in first at the end of the series.

Yankees Road Record: 32-17
Red Sox Home Record: 30-21

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: David Wells (12-3, 3.83) vs. Pedro Martinez (7-2, 2.21)

Wells has won both of his last two starts, both against the Indians, by allowing a total of just six runs in 14 2/3 innings. His start before that though was against the Red Sox, who tore into Wells in a big way. They knocked out five homeruns against the southpaw and put up a total of eight runs. Sadly, that game was close to typical for Wells against Boston. He has a 13-20 record against the Sox, with a 5.16 ERA over his career.

Over his last four starts, Pedro is 2-0 with a mind-numbing 0.64 ERA. That includes a masterful start against the Yankees two weeks ago when he struck out 11 batters over seven innings and allowed just one run on five hits. He didn't get a win that game, and that's been the story for him this year. Despite 12 of his 17 starts being quality starts (6+ innings allowing 3 earned runs or less), Pedro only has seven wins to show for it. For his career, Pedro is 8-7 with a 2.65 ERA against the Bombers.

Saturday: Mike Mussina (11-6, 3.30) vs. John Burkett (8-4, 5.25)

Mussina picked up a victory over Cleveland in his last trip to the mound. The Moose allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings to grab his 11th win. Two starts before that, he took a pitcher's duel with Pedro into the eighth inning before bowing out without a decision. The Yankees won that game in the bottom of the ninth, and they hope that Mussina will lead them to another victory over their biggest rivals.

Burkett is a bit of an enigma. You never know how he's going to perform on a given night. He won both of his last two starts, but they were against the lowly Tigers. The Yankees defeated him two weeks ago, racking up 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings against him. Derek Jeter, already on fire right now, hits .520 against Burkett in 25 at bats. Even more amazingly, Bernie Williams has a .600 average against him and Alfonso Soriano is hitting .636 against the righty.

Sunday: Jeff Weaver (5-8, 5.40) vs. Derek Lowe (11-4, 4.85)

Lowe is another pitcher that is all too prone to getting banged around. He recently had his seven-decision win streak snapped by the Blue Jays, but was good in his last start against the Tigers. The Yankees racked up 10 hits against Lowe on July 4, but were blown out by the Red Sox offense. The strangest stat for Lowe is his home/road splits. He has a 3.10 ERA at home with a 7-1 record, but on the road the numbers balloon to 4-3 with a 6.94 ERA. All this despite Fenway being something of a hitter's park.

Coming off of three straight strong outings, Weaver was hit hard by the Blue Jays in his last start. With his confidence once again below where it should be, Weaver will have to be really sharp to succeed against the offensively minded Red Sox. In his last start in Fenway, Weaver allowed five runs in five innings as the Yanks lost 10-7. Boston SS Nomar Garciaparra has a .500 batting average with five homeruns in 20 at bats against Weaver.

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