Red Sox, Yankees battle for first

The Yankees and Red Sox play the rubber match of their three-game series in Boston at 8 ET on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees may be tied atop the American League East standings, but the rivalry has hardly been even this season. Boston has won nine of the first 11 matchups in 2011, outscoring the Yankees 72-44, as the Red Sox look to win the season series for the first time since 2004.

On the mound

Josh Beckett is on the bump for the Red Sox, looking to continue his dominance over the Yankees this season. He’s won all three starts, allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings with 25 strikeouts.

Josh Beckett vs. Yankees
Past Two Seasons

How has he been so successful against the powerful Yankees lineup? Beckett has silenced the heart of the order, holding the 3-4-5-6 batters to just two hits in 32 at-bats.

His curveball has been nearly unhittable in the three starts, as the Yankees have only one single in 17 at-bats ending in Beckett’s hook this season.

Freddy Garcia, who is on pace to post the second-lowest ERA in his 13-season major league career, gets the call for the Yankees. Garcia is 8-4 career against the Red Sox, but has really struggled against them this season, with an 0-2 record and 10.13 ERA in three outings.

Garcia doesn’t have overpowering stuff, with a fastball that averages just 87 mph, the fifth-slowest fastball velocity among AL pitchers. Garcia has been at his best when the pressure has been highest, limiting opponents to a .191 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Matchups to watch

Mark TeixeiraTeixeiraMark Teixeira hit .351 and slugged .662 in 18 games against the Red Sox during his first season in pinstripes, but over the past two seasons he’s gone cold at the plate. He’s hitting just .198 in 29 games since then versus Boston, including 1-for-7 in the first two games of this series.

Kevin Youkilis may be having a subpar year compared to past seasons, but he’s always been a thorn in the Yankees’ side in his career. His .445 on-base percentage against New York is the highest among active players and his .950 OPS is sixth best (min. 200 PA).

Stat of the game

This will be the eighth time in the history of the rivalry that the Yankees and Red Sox have met on or after Aug. 1 tied for first place (the seventh time was on Friday night). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees have won the past five such games, starting with the game that decided the 1949 pennant.