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The offseason is always about waiting … waiting for baseball to be back. But this offseason has had even more waiting than usual, as we waited more than three months for Manny Machado to sign, and we’re still waiting for Bryce Harper.

But now the wait is over (sort of). Games will be played throughout Florida and Arizona beginning Friday.

We know one of the big stories of spring: Machado is heading to Peoria, Arizona, suiting up for the suddenly much-more-interesting San Diego Padres. As teams kick into gear this weekend, here are some between-the-lines things to look for over the next 30 days.

Jump directly to: Position battles | Players with something to prove | What we love about baseball!

Corey Seager is back

Seager was one of the best all-around players in the league his first two seasons, finishing third in the MVP voting as a rookie in 2016 and following up with another All-Star season in 2017. He missed most of 2018 after Tommy John surgery and hip surgery that left him on crutches as he watched the Dodgers in the World Series. He’s showed up to camp slimmer, having cut dairy from his diet and spent the offseason in Los Angeles working on strength and agility.

What remains to be seen: Can he reclaim his position as one of the best players in the game? Until he cuts loose with the first throw from deep in the hole, we won’t really know for sure, and the Dodgers remain noncommittal about whether Seager will be ready for Opening Day. As one of the game’s young stars, let’s hope he’ll be back … and maybe even better.
Clayton Kershaw, left, and the rest of the Dodgers are happy to have Corey Seager, right, back on the field. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Aside from Seager, the Dodgers will have a fascinating camp to watch. Yasiel Puig is gone and so is Matt Kemp. Walker Buehler appears ready to challenge Clayton Kershaw as staff ace. Kenley Jansen is coming off offseason heart surgery (and a season in which his usually lethal cutter sometimes abandoned him). Who will step up in the bullpen? Is Max Muncy the real deal after his 35-homer season from nowhere?

Getting to two consecutive World Series isn’t easy. Getting to a third straight will be even harder. As they say, however, it begins in spring.
Who wins the closer job for the Red Sox?

We might not actually get an answer to this in spring training. Manager Alex Cora said the other day that he’ll see who gets the ball March 28 — Opening Day — and hopes that will be the person who takes the job, end of discussion. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that somebody could lose the job with a poor spring training. Matt Barnes would seem to be the leading candidate, but Ryan Brasier (dominant in 33⅔ innings last season) and Tyler Thornburg (who was great for the Brewers back in 2016 and is healthy again) also are candidates.

Who plays second base for the Brewers?

The Brewers re-signed Mike Moustakas, and after they acquired him last July, Moustakas played third and Travis Shaw shifted over to second base. Manager Craig Counsell said the other day, however, that they’ll try Moustakas at second to see if he can handle the position. It makes sense for two reasons:

Spring training MLB games on ESPN+

From watching stars take the field in new places to your first chance to see top prospects, it’s time to get ready for Opening Day. Watch on ESPN+

Upcoming schedule:

Sun, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. ET: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals

Mon, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. ET: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees

Tue, Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. ET: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees

1. Shaw is the better defensive third baseman (plus-18 defensive runs saved the past two seasons compared to minus-5 for Moustakas). If you play Moustakas at third and Shaw at second, in one sense you’re making yourself worse at two positions: third base (downgrading from Shaw) and second base (likely downgrading from, say, Hernan Perez to Shaw).

2. With the shift, especially against left-handed pull hitters, teams increasingly feel they can hide somebody at second base.

That doesn’t mean Moustakas ends up there. The Brewers might decide the difference there between Shaw and Moustakas isn’t worth the risk (and it’s not as if Moustakas is terrible at third).

Other position battles

These used to be a rite of spring, but they are pretty rare these days as front offices prefer to have their starting positions locked in and have learned not to overrate spring-training performance. Still, there are a few things we might learn:

• Padres outfield. Wil Myers and Manny Margot appear to be locks — Myers because of the long-term contract commitment and Margot because of his ability to play center. That leaves Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe, two right-handed power hitters, battling for right field. Reyes was the Padres’ best hitter in the second half last season as a rookie, while Renfroe hit 26 home runs in 403 at-bats (although with a .302 OBP). Renfroe is the better defender, but Reyes has intriguing upside. Then you have tooled-up Franchy Cordero and speedy backup Travis Jankowski. Look for a trade somewhere here.

• Cardinals right field. A three-way battle with Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill.

• Rockies second base. Ryan McMahon enters as the favorite, with Garrett Hampson perhaps settling into a utility role, but don’t underestimate the speedy Hampson. Of course, top prospect Brendan Rodgers waits in the wings.

ESPN+: Keith Law’s top 100 prospects

Which stars of tomorrow are tearing up the minors today? Keith Law ranks the top 100 prospects in baseball. Nos. 1-50 | 51-100 | Complete prospect coverage
• Yankees first base. Don’t assume there will be a platoon with Greg Bird and Luke Voit. The way Voit mashed after coming over to the Yankees — .333/.405/.689 in 148 PAs — Bird might have to earn that platoon spot.

• Indians outfield. A cast of many, none of whom exactly inspires great confidence. Maybe they should trade for one of those Padres guys.

• Reds center field. The Reds are trying top prospect Nick Senzel in center field, betting on his athleticism even though he’s never played the outfield as a professional. The other options are Scott Schebler, who started 14 games there last season, or Puig, but you hate to move him out of right. Senzel probably starts the season in the minors regardless, but if he can handle center, he should be up quickly.
What’s left in the tank for Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez?

These two both reached the majors in 2005 and have been two of the best starting pitchers of their generation. Wainwright is 148-85 with a 3.32 ERA and 34.3 career WAR while King Felix is 168-128 with a 3.34 ERA and 51.0 career WAR. This could be the end of the line for both of them, however. Wainwright re-signed with St. Louis on a one-year deal but made just eight starts last season, and his last good season was back in 2014. Hernandez has been unable to adapt to his declining velocity. He went 8-14 with a 5.55 ERA last season and hasn’t made 30 starts since 2015.


10 stars not named Bryce or Manny who changed teams this winter
From Paul Goldschmidt in St. Louis to Josh Donaldson in Atlanta, we tell you what to expect from some familiar faces in new places.
Ranking baseball’s rosters based on their tiers of talent
Some teams take a stars-and-scrubs approach, some have depth but lack star power. We sort them all out and figure out who’s on top.
Possible ripple effects of Machado’s deal for Bryce and baseball
Not only could Manny Machado’s $300 million pact increase the price tag for Bryce Harper, it also could lead to even heftier free-agent hauls for Mookie Betts and Mike Trout in two years.

The Cardinals have backup options in the likes of Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon, while the Mariners have prospects Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Justin Dunn waiting in the wings. Still, if the Cardinals are to return to the playoffs after missing the past three seasons or if the Mariners are to surprise, they’ll need production from the old warhorses.

Aside from that …
We will have baseball, in all its beautiful forms. Clayton Kershaw snapping off a curveball and Max Scherzer whipping off a 1-2 slider to make some opposing hitter look silly. Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-6 of him, barreling up a pitch. The phenoms will be in action — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. We’ll see Ichiro Suzuki, 45 years young. Mookie Betts will show us some form of baseball perfection, his attention to detail and practice manifesting itself in games. We can get our first glimpse of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and start projecting their home run totals, wondering if that 50-50 season that didn’t happen in 2018 could in 2019.

We’ll see players in new uniforms: Paul Goldschmidt with the Cardinals, A.J. Pollock with the Dodgers, Patrick Corbin with the Nationals. And those are just the ex-Diamondbacks. I’m excited to see the Rays, to see how their strong second half pushes them into 2019. I want to see Robinson Cano slashing line drives for the Mets and Jose Ramirez lining smashes for the Indians and Byron Buxton chasing down fly balls for the Twins and Mike Trout just being Mike Trout.

And, yes, I want to see Bryce Harper … somewhere, anywhere. Soon.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Neil Walker hit a three-run homer, Zach Britton started a game-ending double play on New York’s third try in the ninth inning and the Yankees kept the Boston Red Sox from a bubbly celebration in the Bronx for at least another night with a 3-2 victory Tuesday.

Batting from the left side, Walker launched a no-doubter in the seventh inning off Ryan Brasier for the Yankees’ third hit of the game and a 3-1 lead.

Aaron Judge returned to New York’s lineup for the first time since breaking his right wrist July 26, while AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts got a day off for Boston after injuring his left side Sunday. Judge hit a pop fly to the warning track but finished 0 for 4.

New York moved 2½ games ahead of Oakland for the top AL wild card. The A’s lost at home to the Angels.
Boston is trying to clinch the AL East at Yankee Stadium for the second time in three years. The Red Sox lead the Yankees by 10 1/2 games and entered the night with a magic number of four over the Astros to lock up baseball’s best record.

The game started about six hours after it was supposed to begin. Originally scheduled for 1:05 p.m., it was pushed back earlier in the morning because heavy rain was in the forecast.

Chad Green (8-2) and David Robertson relieved J.A. Happ and got the ball to Britton, who capped a five-hitter for his sixth save.

Boston reliever Brandon Workman (6-1) walked two in the seventh before Walker took Brasier deep. The Red Sox bullpen wasted six scoreless innings of two-hit ball from hard-throwing starter Nathan Eovaldi.


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chris Taylor hit a solo home run in the 10th inning to extend Los Angeles’ lead in the NL West to 1½ games over Colorado.

Taylor connected off Adam Ottavino (6-4) with one out and was swarmed by teammates at home plate. A day after moving past the Rockies into first place, the defending NL champions matched their largest lead of the season. The Dodgers won the series opener 8-2.

Dylan Floro (6-3) got the win by striking out two in the 10th.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings.

Rockies counterpart Kyle Freeland allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Charlie Blackmon homered for Colorado.

Los Angeles tied it 2-all in the fifth when Austin Barnes scored on a throwing error by third baseman Nolan Arenado.


OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kaleb Cowart hit a go-ahead grand slam in a six-run sixth inning before adding an RBI triple, and Los Angeles rallied past Oakland.

The Athletics fell five games back of the AL West-leading Astros and 2 1/2 behind the Yankees for the top wild card.

Andrelton Simmons hit a two-run single to get the Angels started in the sixth before Cowart connected against Lou Trivino (8-3) for his club’s first grand slam of the season.

Mike Trout hit his 35th home run for Los Angeles and stole his 24th base.

Noe Ramirez (6-5) pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief for the win. Ty Buttrey allowed a two-run single to pinch-hitter Dustin Fowler in the eighth but got five outs for his fourth save.

Mark Canha hit a three-run double for the A’s, who lost for the fourth time in five games.


PHOENIX (AP) — Javier Baez and Daniel Murphy each hit an early two-run homer as Chicago routed fading Arizona.

With their fifth victory in six games, the Cubs increased their NL Central lead to 3 1/2 games over Milwaukee, which lost at home to last-place Cincinnati.

Mike Montgomery (5-5) allowed a run and four hits with a season-high eight strikeouts in six innings for his first win since Aug. 7.

The slumping Diamondbacks dropped six games behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West and six back of St. Louis for the second wild card. They have lost four in a row and nine of 11.

Just before Baez connected, Anthony Rizzo lined out to end a 17-pitch at-bat. Rizzo added a two-run single in a four-run fifth.

Matt Andriese (3-6) lasted two innings and was charged with five runs on five hits in a bullpen game for Arizona.


ATLANTA (AP) — Paul DeJong hit a two-run homer, Yadier Molina added a two-run single in a four-run eighth inning and St. Louis won ITS third straight game.

Austin Gomber pitched five effective innings for St. Louis, which holds a slim lead for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals top the National League with 36 victories since All-Star break, and their 43 road wins this season rank second.

Atlanta’s division lead dropped to 5½ games over Philadelphia as the Braves lost their fourth in a row after a season-best six-game winning streak. They are 38-38 at SunTrust Park and have dropped 14 of 18 at home.

The Braves’ magic number remained at seven as they try to clinch a division title for the first time in five years. Philadelphia beat the New York Mets 5-2.

Anibal Sanchez (6-6) allowed four hits and two runs and struck out six in five innings.

Gomber (6-1) gave up six hits, one run and three walks while striking out five for his fifth victory in his last six decisions.


HOUSTON (AP) — Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer in a four-run third inning that helped Houston eliminate Seattle from contention for the AL West title.

Houston extended its division lead to five games over second-place Oakland.

Rookie starter Josh James (1-0) struck out seven and scattered four hits over 5 1/3 innings for his first major league win. Four relievers completed the shutout.

Seattle starter Mike Leake (10-10) yielded six hits and five runs in 6 1/3 innings to snap a two-game winning streak.


ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Blake Snell became the major leagues’ first 20-game winner in two years, pitching Tampa Bay past Texas.

Snell (20-5) threw one-hit ball for five innings and tied the Tampa Bay record for victories in a season. David Price also won 20 in his Cy Young Award season of 2012.

Snell won his eighth straight start. The 25-year-old lefty struck out five, walked two and threw 92 pitches, exiting with a 1.97 ERA.

Tampa Bay has won four straight and 13 of 16 this month in a last-ditch attempt to wrest a playoff berth from Oakland. The Rays moved within 5½ games of the Athletics for the second AL wild card.

The Rays scored three times in the fourth against Yovani Gallardo (8-6). Willie Adames hit a two-run homer and Joey Wendle had an RBI double.


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jose Peraza capitalized on Chase Anderson’s home run troubles with a drive in the first inning and Cincinnati handed Milwaukee its third loss in four games.

The Brewers’ edge for the top NL wild-card spot was cut to two games over St. Louis. Milwaukee fell 3½ games behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central.

Milwaukee managed only three hits against five Cincinnati pitchers. It was the third low-scoring defeat for the Brewers in four games — they lost to Pittsburgh 3-1 on Saturday and 3-2 on Sunday.

Michael Lorenzen, making his first start since 2015 after 151 relief appearances, allowed one unearned run on one hit in four innings. Sal Romano (8-11) followed with 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the victory.

Raisel Iglesias struck out three in the ninth after a leadoff walk for his 28th save.

Anderson (9-8) gave up three runs on six hits with two walks in 3 2/3 innings, matching his shortest start of the season. Six relievers blanked the Reds the rest of the way.


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jorge Alfaro hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth inning and Philadelphia boosted its faint playoff hopes.

Philadelphia overcame an uneven outing from ace Aaron Nola and a home run by starter Steven Matz that made him the third Mets pitcher to homer in consecutive appearances.

The Phillies won for the third time in 10 games and moved within 5½ games of Atlanta for the NL East lead. The Braves lost at home to St. Louis.

Wilson Ramos and Justin Bour delivered pinch-hit RBI hits in a five-run sixth before Alfaro drilled a curveball from Drew Smith (1-1) to left-center for his 10th homer.

And with that, Matz’s eventful performance was wasted by the Mets.

The other Mets pitchers to homer in back-to-back outings were Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (1972) and Ron Darling (1989).

Pat Neshek (3-1) relieved Nola and got the final out of the sixth. Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris each pitched a scoreless inning as the Phillies improved to 7-11 against the Mets this season.


BALTIMORE (AP) — The Orioles fell to Toronto, dropping their 108th game, a team record for losses in a season since they arrived in Baltimore in 1954.

The 1988 Orioles, who opened the season 0-21, held the previous team record for losses with a 54-107 finish. The overall franchise record for defeats is 111, set by the 1939 St. Louis Browns — a mark this year’s team could still eclipse.

The Orioles led 4-2 in the seventh before a throwing error by third baseman Steve Wilkerson on a grounder by Teoscar Hernández allowed two runs to score. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. followed with a two-RBI single off reliever Paul Fry that that gave Toronto a 6-4 lead.

Jake Petricka (3-1) pitched two scoreless innings. Tyler Clippard held the Orioles in the eighth, and Ken Giles earned his 23rd save.


PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pinch-hitter Ryan Lavarnway drove in the winning run with a single in the 11th inning and Jameson Taillon struck out a career-high 11 for Pittsburgh.

It was just the second at-bat of the season for the 30-year-old Lavarnway, the Pirates’ fourth-string catcher. He hit .288 in 77 games in with Triple-A Indianapolis. Lavarnway has played 142 career games with five teams.

Starling Marte led off the 11th with an infield single off Burch Smith (1-6). Josh Bell walked and Burch struck out Francisco Cervelli before Adam Frazier was intentionally walked to load the bases, setting up Lavarnway’s walk-off hit to shallow center.

Pinch-hitter Hunter Dozier tied the game in the ninth with a double off Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez that scored Jorge Bonifacio. Left fielder Corey Dickerson threw to shortstop Jordy Mercer, who relayed home to throw out Salvador Perez and preserve the tie.

Kyle Crick (3-2) retired the side on 10 pitches in the 11th to earn the win.


MIAMI (AP) — Stephen Strasburg matched his season high with 11 strikeouts and Bryce Harper tied a season high with five walks to lead Washington.

Anthony Rendon drove in two runs for the Nationals (77-75), who moved within 6½ games of the NL East-leading Atlanta.

Strasburg (9-7) pitched six innings and allowed two runs and five hits with two walks. At one point, he struck out six consecutive batters.

Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 25th save in 26 opportunities.

Sandy Alcantara (2-1) pitched four innings for the Marlins and allowed six hits, six walks, and three runs.


DETROIT (AP) — Chris Gimenez homered and Tyler Austin drove in three runs to lead the Twins.

The Twins have won three straight, while the Tigers have lost seven of nine.

Mikie Mahtook drove in all of Detroit’s runs.

Jake Odorizzi (7-10) allowed two runs on four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out six in his first start since losing a no-hitter in the eighth inning against the New York Yankees.

Trevor Hildenberg pitched the ninth for his seventh save, allowing Mahtook’s two-out RBI single.

Daniel Norris (0-5) pitched a season-high 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks.


CLEVELAND (AP) — Corey Kluber struck out 11 in eight innings to record his career-high 19th win for Cleveland.

Kluber (19-7), who allowed three runs, topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth straight season. Kluber won 18 games in three of the previous four seasons, including his two AL Cy Young Award-winning years, 2014 and 2017.

Omar Narvaez walked and Matt Davidson singled with two outs in the eighth, but Kluber retired Ryan LaMarre on a groundout.

Indians All-Star second baseman Jose Ramirez was hit on the left arm by Carlos Rodon’s pitch in the fifth inning and walked from the plate in obvious pain. Ramirez spoke with manager Terry Francona and a team trainer, but stayed in the game.

Carlos Rodon (6-6) allowed five runs in seven innings. Palka and Narvaez hit solo homers in the sixth for the White Sox.


SAN DIEGO (AP) — Giants rookie Chris Shaw hit a two-run single in the eighth inning and San Francisco rallied to beat San Diego, assuring that the rebuilding Padres will finish last in the NL West.

Hunter Pence homered, doubled and drove in three runs for the Giants.

Freddy Galvis had four hits and scored twice for the Padres, who dropped to 60-92, one more loss than last year with 10 games to play. Ownership expected the team would improve from last season, when it finished 71-91, seven games better than San Francisco.

Sam Dyson (4-3) pitched the seventh and Will Smith worked the ninth for his 14th save.

Craig Stammen (8-3) took the loss.

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BOSTON — It’s no secret that the New York Yankees hate where they are right now.

That is, the Bronx Bombers’ decision makers openly despise being in second place in the American League East, behind their rival Boston Red Sox, who have opened up a 5½-game margin in the division.


Olney’s grades: Plenty of A’s, B’s and C’s — and one big, fat F
No team added more talent than the Yankees, while the crosstown rival Mets utterly failed to unload any. It’s t to hand out the report cards.
Brian Cashman’s multiple moves shore up Yankees’ playoff push
The Yankees’ GM didn’t pull off a deadline blockbuster, but his busy week boosted Yankees’ bid to win.
Red Sox put Sale on DL ahead of Yankees series
The Red Sox have placed left-hander Chris Sale on the 10-day disabled list with left shoulder inflammation. Brian Johnson will fill his rotation spot Thursday against the Yankees.

“No, I don’t like our position,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I want to be where they’re sitting right now.

“They’re in front of us. They’re the team we’re chasing. They’re the team we want to pass.”

Perhaps that explains the common thread to Cashman’s biggest trade-deadline moves: The three pitchers he acquired all have strong numbers against the Red Sox.

There’s good reason to be focused on beating Boston. With 10 games between the teams remaining, beginning with a four-game set at Fenway Park that opens Thursday night, the fate of the division could rest in the remaining head-to-head meetings.

Can the Yankees catch the Red Sox? The answer might be determined by some factors that have changed since the teams last played a month ago.

The trade deadline
Yankees: Pitching, pitching and more pitching is where New York turned prior to Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline. After acquiring left-handed reliever Zach Britton from Baltimore last week, the Yankees added lefty starter J.A. Happ from Toronto on Thursday. Earlier this week, Lance Lynn came over from Minnesota and was added to the bullpen, giving the team a long reliever with starter’s experience. Lynn also could serve as a sixth starter as the Yankees fight through their current stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

The Red Sox were a clear factor in these moves. Britton has 14 career saves against the Red Sox. Lynn has hung a 1.80 lifetime ERA on them. Happ has a 0.84 ERA in two starts versus Boston this season and is 7-4 in 18 career starts against the Sox.

Red Sox: More important than those 14 saves, Britton reportedly was part of Boston’s trade plans before the Yankees swooped in. Although the Red Sox’s front-line starters draw the most attention, their bullpen for the most part has performed well. Still, as much of a strength as the Boston pen has been at times, it trails New York’s and Houston’s in ERA and hits allowed. Getting a sinkerballer of Britton’s caliber would have been a boost.

Instead, Boston acquired Nathan Eovaldi from Tampa Bay to slot into the starting rotation. The former Yankee had also drawn New York’s interest in the lead-up to the trade deadline. The Red Sox also acquired Ian Kinsler from the Angels. Kinsler gives them a veteran Gold Glove infielder to help absorb the loss of second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia might not be ready to play until very late in the season — if he returns at all — after appearing in just three games this season, due to a knee injury.


Yankees: Since the All-Star break, the Yankees have had a relative power outage, hitting just nine home runs in 12 games after clubbing a record-setting 161 through their first 93. Among the key reasons for the drop-off: Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have been missing from the lineup lately.

Sanchez went on the 10-day disabled list July 24 after aggravating a right groin strain that had already cost him 20 games. The night before, the catcher was roundly criticized for not going hard after a wild pitch and not running hard enough to beat a crucial, late-game ground ball. A run scored from second on the wild pitch, and the tying run might have scored on what became Sanchez’s game-ending groundout.

Two days after Sanchez hit the DL, Judge joined him with a chip fracture in his right wrist after being hit by a pitch. The initial outlook on Judge wasn’t promising, but he received a better prognosis than anticipated and is expected to miss just three weeks. Judge thinks he’ll be able to work off a tee and take dry swings in the next few days. Sanchez could be down about another month, according to Cashman.

The Yankees also are monitoring outfield prospect Clint Frazier, who would have been an option to fill Judge’s shoes had he not been diagnosed with post-concussion migraines. Frazier was first hurt in spring training when he hit his head on an outfield wall while attempting to make a catch. He has been up and down between the Yankees and Triple-A in recent weeks.

Red Sox: This week has been unkind to the Red Sox on the injury front.

Suddenly their starting rotation has been plagued by injuries, with Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale both on the 10-day disabled list. Rodriguez went on the DL Monday because of a right ankle sprain and is expected back at some point in September. Sale, the ace of the staff, won’t pitch in this series as scheduled because of inflammation in his left shoulder, but he’s expected to pitch Tuesday against the Blue Jays.

With Rodriguez and Sale out, the Yankees will dodge a pair of lefties who have a combined 22-7 record. Neither pitcher has given up a run in his past three starts. Instead, the Yankees will face Brian Johnson, Rick Porcello, Eovaldi and David Price. In their most recent game against the Red Sox, the Yankees tagged Price for eight runs and five home runs in 3⅓ innings. Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks had three homers in that game.

Along with the injuries in the rotation, key position players Rafael Devers (sent to the DL on Sunday with a hamstring injury) and Xander Bogaerts (sore after being hit by a pitch on his right hand Tuesday) are banged up, while starting catcher Christian Vazquez is out after surgery on a broken pinkie.

Advantage: Even
The teams’ previous series at Fenway included the biggest fireworks of the season, when Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly was the center of a benches-clearing brawl. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Remaining schedule
Yankees: A series win this weekend would do wonders for building some momentum and cutting into the current deficit. Take three of four, and the Yankees would trim the lead to 3½ games. Sweep, and the Yankees would be just 1½ games back.

But don’t expect skipper Aaron Boone to read too deeply into the results of this series.

“I don’t get caught up in the ‘We need to go win three, we need to split, we need to whatever it is,'” the Yankees manager said Wednesday. “We need to go play well. And we know that when we go there, especially in Fenway Park, it’s a great team that can beat you in a lot of different ways. So I know we have to be at our best if we’re going to win games.

“We continue to do that throughout the last couple of months of the season, hopefully we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”

They certainly could. Of the Yankees’ 53 remaining games, 33 come against teams with losing records. While that ought to help them cut into Boston’s lead, it could prove problematic. The Yankees are a mediocre 31-18 against teams with losing records. The Orioles, who have just 33 wins all season, are an even 6-6 against the Yankees.

Meanwhile, New York is 30-17 against teams that entered play Wednesday with winning records. Their .638 win percentage in such games is the best in the bigs, and about half of the Yankees’ final 25 games come against teams that could be part of the postseason picture. That includes six games against Boston.

Red Sox: The Yankees enter this weekend holding a 5-4 edge in a season series that has so far included six games at Yankee Stadium. New York took two of three in the teams’ previous meeting, which came in the Bronx as June turned into July. In May, the Yankees took two of three in another series at home.

In the lone series at Fenway, Boston battered the Yankees for two big wins in a three-game set that featured the most fireworks the rivalry has seen this season. When Tyler Austin (traded to the Twins this week in the deal for Lynn) charged the mound toward Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly, punches were thrown, and suspensions were levied. Those emotions could erupt again as this tight division race continues.

Although 16 of the Yankees’ remaining games come against teams that are either current division leaders or among the top wild-card contenders, 25 of Boston’s final 53 games are against that same type of competition. That includes the 10 against the Yankees, as well as five games against the Phillies and Braves, who are involved in a tight division race in the NL East that could go down to the final week.


That said …

The Red Sox, though they bowed out earlier than the Yankees in last year’s playoffs, are the defending division champs. They’re in the midst of what could be the best season in franchise history, and heading into this weekend, at least, they hold a commanding lead. Although two of the Yankees’ biggest sluggers are hurt, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez seem to one-up each other on a nightly basis as they make their cases for AL MVP.

These games could narrow the division, but they could also go Boston’s way … which would leave the Yankees with an even taller order down the stretch.