PITTSBURGH -- The Las Vegas oddsmakers universally installed the Red Sox as the American League favorites and the Philadelphia Phillies as the National League favorites at the beginning of spring training.
Now, the two teams will meet in a three-game series that begins Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. It could very well be a World Series preview, though Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis downplayed the idea of an October atmosphere being prevalent in June.
"They obviously have a good team but you also can't make more out of these games than they really are," Youkilis said. "These are three regular-season games. They don't mean anything more than that. It's way too early to be thinking about the World Series."
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia agreed with his infield mate, saying "you can't get too carried away in June."
Nevertheless, it is a matchup between teams with two of the best three records in the major leagues, made even more intriguing by the fact that the Red Sox lead the major leagues in runs scored (5.31 a game) and the Phillies are first in runs allowed (3.25).
The Phillies top the majors with a 49-30 record, putting them five games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The Red Sox are 45-32 and one-half game behind the New York Yankees (45-31) in the AL East.
The matchup has catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, in his first full season with the Red Sox, excited.
"You always get up for those series, get up against the Yankees, get against the big teams," Saltalamacchia said Sunday after the Red Sox snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over the Pirates at Pittsburgh. "We'll be ready to go. Hopefully, we'll swing the bats in this series."
The Red Sox have scored just 14 total runs in their last five games, the last three played in an NL park, where the Sox lose their designated hitter. Before their current lull, the Red Sox won 14 of 16 games and averaged 8 runs a game in that span.
Even though Roy Oswalt went on the disabled list last week with a bulging disc in his back, Philadelphia still has three pitchers who would be No. 1 starters on many other clubs.
The Red Sox will miss reigning NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay in this series but will see two of Phillies' other top starters. Left-hander Cliff Lee (8-5, 2.87) is scheduled to pitch Tuesday night against Josh Beckett (6-2, 1.86) and Cole Hamels (9-4, 2.49) is the probable starter for the series finale on Thursday afternoon against fellow lefty Jon Lester (9-4, 3.66).
"Those are fun games to play," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "You go in knowing you're not going to knock it around the ballpark but they're still fun games."
Francona has toyed with the idea of playing Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield one or two times on this road trip in order to get David Ortiz's bat into the lineup, but that appears to be unlikely on Tuesday or Thursday with the Sox facing tough lefties in Lee and Hamels.
The Phillies were without closer Ryan Madson, who has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities this season, during their weekend series with Oakland. His status is questionable for the series with the Red Sox because of a swollen pitching hand.
The Phillies didn't have any save opportunities against the Athletics but are likely to use either left-hander Antonio Bastardo or rookie right-hander Michael Stutes in save situations if Madson isn't available.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, meanwhile, pitched a scoreless ninth inning Sunday in his first save opportunity in 10 days, making him 14-for-15 this season. He had pitched once since his previous save on June 16.
"I just had to really throttle back a little bit because it's been a while since I've been out there," Papelbon said. "I had to take a little bit more times and not get over-amped."