This one has a different feel to it, doesn't it?
As the Red Sox arrive in New York for the sixth and final regular series against the Yankees, very little is in doubt.
Both teams will be in the playoffs. The Yankees, who lead the AL East by 5-1/2 games, have secured their berth and have magic number of five to clinch the division, something they can do with a sweep.
The Red Sox's magic number to clinch the wild card is three, and with the playoff pretenders that are the Rangers fading badly, it's entirely possible the Sox could get swept this weekend and still clinch that berth.
Really the only thing that maybe is in doubt is the division. If the Sox were to sweep, the Yanks' lead would be cut to 2-1/2 games entering the final week in the season, though with the Royals and lifeless Rays left on the Yankees' schedule, it's hard to believe the the Bombers wouldn't be able to secure the division crown anyway.
That, of course means, the only thing left for our two rivals to establish the weekend is a psychological edge should they meet in the ALCS.
If the Yankees sweep, the season series would end up 9-9. Also it would mean that after losing the first eight games of the season against the Sox, the Yanks will have gone 9-1 against Boston in the second half.
If Boston can sweep or even take two, they would put a stop to the Yankees' roll over them and reestablish some momentum against the Bombers.
A look at the pitching matchups:
Tonight, 7:05 p.m., NESN, TBS, Local TV (Check your listings)
Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33 ERA) vs. Joba Chamberlain (8-6, 4.73)
Lester hasn't lost since July 19 and the Sox haven't lost one of his starts since Aug. 9, when he gave up one run against the Yankees. Joba, meanwhile, is fighting for a spot in the postseason rotation. He hasn't won since beating the Sox on Aug. 6 and has a 8.25 ERA in his last nine starts. The Yankees want him to go at least five innings tonight, but another bad start likely will mean Chad Gaudin becomes the Yankees' fourth playoff starter.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m., Fox
Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-5, 6.80) vs. CC Sabathia (18-7, 3.31)
Dice-K has won both his starts since returning from the DL, allowing no runs in six innings in his first start against the Angels, before giving up three runs in 5-1/3 innings against the Angels. This will be a big test for him. If he can replicate what he did against the Angels, the Sox can feel secure that they have four confident and competent starters. In six career starts against the Yankees, though, Matsuzaka is 3-2 with a 6.35 ERA. Sabathia, meanwhile, has been brilliant in the second half, going 10-1 with a 2.54 ERA, including two wins over the Red Sox. He's been the Yankees' best pitcher and will look to continue that roll.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., ESPN
Paul Byrd (1-2, 6.04) vs. Andy Pettitte (13-7, 4.15)
Byrd is 0-2 with a 12.00 ERA on the road this season and 3-5 with a 4.72 ERA in his career agains the Yankees. The Sox will be hoping to get five, maybe six, decent innings out of him. After a 10-day break, Pettitte returned from some shoulder soreness to pitch decently Monday against the Angels. After allowing two runs and shaking of some rust in the first inning, he settled down nicely and ended up with a quality start, three runs in six inning. Pettitte will be looking return to the dominant form he had through much of the second half.
Prediction: Yankees take two of three and continue their second-half run against the Sox. Joba pitches well, but not well enough to beat Lester.