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Yankees head to Boston for rivalry series and race for baseball's best record

Yankees' Aaron Judge signs autographs before a game

Yankees' Aaron Judge signs autographs before a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 26, 2019. Credit: AP/Elise Amendola

In addition to trying to maintain their status as the team with the best record in baseball, the Yankees may peek a little at the standings this weekend while they are at Fenway Park for a four-game wraparound series against the Red Sox.

Oh, not so much the AL East standings. With the Yankees leading Tampa Bay by 9 1⁄2 games and Boston by 16 1⁄2 games, that race is pretty much over.

No, the Yankees may look at a race they’re not even a part of: the AL wild card race. Specifically, the one the Red Sox are clinging to by their fingernails (they are 6 1⁄2 games behind the A’s for the second wild card spot and also trail Cleveland by 5 1⁄2 games).

A good showing by the Yankees in Boston could go a long way toward ending any chance of the defending World Series champions returning to the postseason. Given that the Red Sox ended the Yankees’ 2018 season in the Division Series, it would feel pretty sweet for the Yankees to be a part of Boston’s demise.

Most players won’t say that, of course. One game at a time and all that. But one player was willing to say what Yankees fans must be thinking going into Friday’s series opener: It’ll feel good to leave town with the Red Sox even further back in the rearview mirror.

“Yeah — they knocked us out last year and they’re our rivals,” Luke Voit said. “So, for sure.”

Reliever Zack Britton, who made an important return from a calf injury scare in Wednesday’s 4-1 victory over the Rangers, said the Yankees are thinking about their own fate, not that of the Red Sox.

“I don’t think we’re thinking about knocking them out,” Britton said. “We always play good games against them, so it’s going to be an exciting four games. But I think we’re just looking forward to taking care of business. Playing well. Just continuing the roll we’re on right now.”

The last time the Yankees were in Boston (July 25-28), the Red Sox won the first three games, but the Yankees won the finale and haven’t looked too closely at their rivals since.

That’s why Aaron Judge said about this series: “We’d like to win every game. Our main focus is to go out there and just take care of business. Just do our job and keep winning series. Let’s focus on what we can do.”

What the Yankees can do is continue their battle for the best record in baseball with the Dodgers and Astros. The Yankees are a season-high 43 games over .500 at 92-49 (.652). Los Angeles is 92-50 (.648) and Houston is 91-50 (.645) after rallying from a 7-0 second-inning deficit to beat the Mariners, 11-9, in 13 innings on Thursday night.

Home-field advantage in the later rounds of the postseason may seem like an esoteric concept at this moment until you think about what happened to the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS, when they went to Houston up three games to two and lost the last two at Minute Maid Park to the Astros. The home team won all seven games in that series.

Aaron Boone, asked how he will balance the quest for the best record with the need to rest players down the stretch, said: “Very much like we’ve done it all year. I think you guys know me well enough [to know] that I value keeping guys fresh and making sure we take care of guys and protect guys, especially in our bullpen. But you’re doing that all with the idea that you’re trying to rack up wins and win. So I don’t think it changes much now.

“We want to have the best possible record. How do you do that? It’s by striking that balance and making sure guys are rested and at their best, and that’s kind of the line I’m always kind of trying to walk.”

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