|Yankees trying to prevent Red Sox clincher|
NEW YORK -- The Boston Red Sox are trying to secure their third straight American League East title while the New York Yankees are preventing it from happening and auditioning potential starting pitchers for the wild-card game.
So far, the Yankees are 2-for-2 in keeping the champagne in storage for their rivals and New York will try to complete the sweep and keep the Red Sox from clinching Thursday night in the finale of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
"We don't want them to celebrate here and we're going to do everything we can to not do that," New York's Neil Walker said Tuesday.
Walker was responsible for putting the celebration on hold Tuesday by hitting a go-ahead three-run homer off Ryan Brasier in the seventh inning to give the Yankees a 3-2 win. On Wednesday, it was Luke Voit homering in consecutive at-bats off David Price in New York's 10-1 win.
Besides the power resulting in the Yankees tying their single-season record of 245 homers, the first two games can be viewed as part of the competition for who starts Oct. 3. New York's J.A. Happ allowed an unearned run in six innings Tuesday and Luis Severino followed it by pitching seven innings of one-run ball to win his 18th game on Wednesday.
"We're going to fight to the end," Severino said. "It doesn't matter what the score says. They're going to win 100-something games. We're going to be behind them. We're going to grind to the end and every game from here now we're going to fight to the end."
On Wednesday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone seemed to drop a hint about who might pitch in a wild-card game, and it appears Masahiro Tanaka, who starts Thursday, could be deployed for that start.
"We've started to talk about it a little bit in earnest the last few days in about where we're at, what we're thinking, possibilities and then how these next dozen games or so, whatever we have left, how they play out and how the rotation falls a little bit will all factor into our decision as to who we would pitch in a wild-card scenario, who would we pitch if we were moving on," Boone said. "Those are things we're starting to have conversations about and I would say that these next 12 days will play a role in that."
Tanaka enters the audition armed with a 12-5 record and a 3.47 ERA but, more importantly, on a roll. He has won his last three starts and is working on a 20-inning scoreless streak, which is just shy of the 21 1/3-inning scoreless run Tanaka put together from July 15-Aug. 5.
Tanaka also has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his last 11 starts, posting a 2.15 ERA in that span. Equally important, he has allowed just six homers in his last 71 innings.
The right-hander last pitched in Friday's 11-0 rout of the Toronto Blue Jays when he allowed four hits in six innings.
Tanaka is 8-4 with a 4.08 ERA in 17 career starts against the Red Sox and 1-0 with a 6.60 ERA in three starts this season against Boston.
The Red Sox (103-49) have lost their third series in the last 22 since the start of July and are trying to avoid three straight losses for the fourth time this year and first instance since Aug. 24-26.
"It's disappointing because what we set to do every series is to win it," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "We don't have a chance to win the series. We'll show up tomorrow. We know what's at stake. We'll try to win a game and make it a happy flight."
Boston has managed three runs in the two games to fall to 2-6 at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox are hitting .244 (129-for-530) this month, with a few hitters slumping of late.
Andrew Benintendi is in a 2-for-15 slide, Xander Bogaerts is in a 2-for-14 slump while Mookie Betts has one hit in his last 12 at-bats. Betts went 0-for-4 with a walk as the designated hitter Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday to rest his left side.
"There's a few guys struggling and we've faced some good pitching too," Cora said. "It's a combination of both. I do think that sometimes we get too passive at the plate. We're taking too many pitches right in the middle."
Eduardo Rodriguez will make his fourth start since returning from a sprained right ankle that cost him 39 games. Rodriguez is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA since returning but allowed one run on five hits in six innings a week ago in a no-decision against Toronto
Rodriguez is 12-4 with a 3.53 ERA. He began the season 3-0 with a 5.29 ERA but is 9-4 with a 2.89 ERA in his last 16.
In 11 career starts against the Yankees, Rodriguez is 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA. This year, he is 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts versus New York.