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Red Sox visit Yankees for first of 10 meetings in 24 days

NEW YORK -- By Labor Day, the winner of the American League East might become somewhat clearer.

Especially if the Boston Red Sox continue rolling while the New York Yankees keep displaying inconsistencies.

The longtime rivals face each other 10 times in the next four weeks, starting Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

"It's very important," Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said of facing the Red Sox, who are on an eight-game winning streak. "Any time we play the Red Sox, especially when you're behind in the standings, once you get in the middle of and end of August and into September, you start running out of time to make up ground."

The Yankees are 6-3 in the first nine meetings, but their wins have showcased some of their inconsistencies at the plate.

New York scored 17 runs in its two wins at home June 7-8 but scored seven in 25 innings during two wins in Boston as the teams split a four-game series July 14-16.

When the Yankees left Boston after a 3-0 loss, they were 3 1/2 games out of first. They won 10 of their next 14 games, taking a half-game lead after a 7-3 win over the Detroit Tigers on July 31.

They are 3-6 since and have scored three runs or fewer in every loss (plus one win). The slump in the last week occurs at an inopportune time as the Red Sox have surged to a 4 1/2-game lead, thanks to their longest winning streak of the season.

"It's really important," manager Joe Girardi said. "You've got to stay in striking distance so when you have a chance to play them, you can make up ground. You can't rely on other teams."

New York returns home after going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 runners Thursday in a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Aaron Judge had one of New York's six hits but also recorded two of their 10 strikeouts. Since the All-Star break, he is 15-for-87 with 40 strikeouts, including 27 straight games with at least one.

"We're just in a rough patch," Judge said.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are batting .299 during their winning streak, which continued with Wednesday's 8-2 victory at Tampa Bay.

"Every night it seems like it's somebody new," Boston designated hitter Hanley Ramirez said. "That's a good thing, because you don't have to rely just on one guy. From the top all the way to the bottom, anybody can beat you in the lineup."

Eduardo Nunez had two hits and is hitting .420 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 11 games since being obtained from the San Francisco Giants. Andrew Benintendi went 3-for-5 on Wednesday and is 11-for-22 in his last six contests.

Boston's pitching also is rolling; its staff is producing a 3.04 ERA in the streak after Rick Porcello allowed two runs in six innings Wednesday.

"There's still a long way to go," Boston manager John Farrell said. "When you get on winning streaks, they're important no matter what time of year. But we knew going into this part of the season, where teams in our division are still kind of bunched up, to go out and continue to execute and play well is critically important. It begins with pitching, and that's been very encouraging to see."

The Red Sox will start all lefties in this series. Eduardo Rodriguez (4-3, 4.08) opens the weekend with Drew Pomeranz to follow. Rodriguez will look to continue his success against the Yankees, though he was on the disabled list during the last two series.

Rodriguez is 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA in seven career starts against the Yankees. In his first three starts at New York, he has allowed two runs or fewer.

Judge has never faced him, but Jacoby Ellsbury is 6-for-19, Didi Gregorius is 7-for-19 and Gardner 3-for-14.

Since returning from a knee injury July 17, Rodriguez is 0-1 with a 5.66 ERA in four starts. His most recent outing was last Friday, when he allowed two runs and four hits in six innings in a no-decision against the Chicago White Sox.

Jaime Garcia will make his first career start at Yankee Stadium and first against Boston on Friday. Garcia took the loss in his debut for the Yankees last Friday when he allowed six runs (five earned) and five hits in 4 2/3 innings during a 7-2 loss at Cleveland.

"He looked rusty," Girardi said. "He was up in the zone and wasn't throwing his fastball for strikes."

Garcia is 1-1 with a 6.35 ERA in two starts since the Atlanta Braves traded him. Overall, he is 5-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 20 starts. Since the All-Star break, Garcia is 3-1 with a 4.26 ERA in four starts.

Last year, Ramirez's three-run homer in the ninth off Dellin Betances Sept. 15 at Fenway began an 11-game winning streak to lift the Red Sox into the division title.

They will host three games vs. the Yankees next weekend before returning to New York for four games Aug. 31 to Sept. 3.

"That is kind of weird that we're playing them three times in such a short span," Girardi said.

Weird, yes, but a chance to get a good look at what the AL East might look like by Labor Day.

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