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Yankees ready for midseason showdown against the Red Sox

Sandy Leon of the Red Sox scores as

Sandy Leon of the Red Sox scores as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez can't handle the throw during the second inning of a game at Fenway Park in Boston on April 12, 2018. Credit: AP / Winslow Townson

The AL East is one division that’s contained zero surprise.

And isn’t likely to.

The Yankees and Red Sox entered 2018 as the two clear division favorites, expected to quickly separate themselves and turn the East into a two-horse race.

Nearly three months into the season it’s been exactly that, with the only question being whether one team can pull away down the stretch or if it will be a photo finish for the division crown. The latter appears to be the way to bet.

“We feel like we’ve got a really good team, they’ve got a really good team,” Brett Gardner said. “We’ve been right there with them, within a game or two, it seems like all year and it will probably be like that for the next few months, too.”

Yankees-Red Sox III starts Friday night at the Stadium, and while it’s undeniably a monster halfway-through-the-season series, editions IV, V, and VI promise to be as big, if not bigger, because neither club has shown signs of a slowdown.

The Yankees, off on Thursday, come into the series 52-26; the Red Sox are 55-27 after beating the Angels on Thursday night and lead the Yankees by one game.

“It’s always an important series when you go head-to-head with a team that you’ve been unable to really separate yourselves from, or them from us, thus far,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday at an event in Manhattan. “So you’d like to have a successful campaign this weekend. It’s important to us. It’s important to our fans.

“But you also keep perspective on no matter what happens during this weekend it’s not going to determine the ultimate outcome, and so whether we come out ahead or they come out ahead you still have a lot of ground to cover the rest of the way.”

Fittingly, the clubs have split the first six games they’ve played, with the Red Sox winning two of three April 10-12 at Fenway Park and the Yankees taking two of three at the Stadium May 8-10.

“They’re a great team,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We’ve played some really competitive games with them already and, obviously, we know if we’re going to win the division, that’s the likely team we’re going to have to beat out.”

At one point of the season — though super early — Boston did grab a sizeable lead.

After the Yankees lost to Toronto April 20, the Red Sox were 7 ½ games in front. But the Yankees won 17 of their next 18, which included victories over Boston May 8 and 9, putting them one game ahead in the standings. Since May 1 the largest lead for either team has been 2 ½ games.

“I don’t look at it that way,” Boone said of any inherent “pressure” to the series. “I look at it as an opponent, a really good opponent, that is chasing after the same thing we’re chasing after. So you kind of embrace the competition of it.”

The Yankees will see three Boston lefthanded starters and, because of the lack of production at first with the lefty-hitting Greg Bird and switch-hitting Neil Walker, Boone didn’t rule out the possibility that righty-hitting Tyler Austin, who hit eight homers before being optioned, could be recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the series.

CC Sabathia opposes Eduardo Rodriguez on Friday night and Saturday it will be Sonny Gray against Chris Sale. In the nationally televised Sunday night game, ace Luis Severino takes on David Price, a personal punching bag of the Yankees over the years (Price has a 4.67 ERA in 28 career starts against them).

The overall 2018 numbers reflect both clubs’ standing.

The Yankees came into Thursday ranked first in the majors in homers (127), second in slugging (.455) and OPS (.782), and third in runs (398)

Boston came into their game Thursday night first in the big leagues in average (.266), slugging (.458) and OPS (.790) and second in homers (116) and runs (422).

Pitching?

Pretty solid there, too.

The Yankees rank second in baseball in team ERA (3.37); the Red Sox rank sixth with a 3.50 ERA. The Yankees are second in strikeouts (801), the Red Sox third (786). The Yankees are second in opponents’ OPS (.652), the Red Sox third (.667).

And on and on.

“I really like the team that we have,” Gardner said. “Obviously, those guys have a really good team, too. They’ve been playing really well all year. I’m sure it will be a great matchup. I’m sure the fans will get what they want to see.”

With Neil Best

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