On the contrary, with the Red Sox attempting to scratch their way up the standings and the Yankees trying to enter the All-Star break with a firm grip on the division lead, the level of competition may be even more fierce than usual. The first-place Yankees enter Friday's game 7 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox, who return to Boston after being swept by the A's in Oakland.
"They're before the break and you want to finish up strong," said Yankee manager Joe Girardi. "They're important games. We're going to see a lot of each other the next [three] days."
There will be a day-night doubleheader on Saturday -- a product of a postponed Sunday night game in April after the Yankees took the first two games at Fenway Park in their only meeting with the Red Sox thus far -- but the series starts on Friday, with Hiroki Kuroda on the mound opposite Josh Beckett.
Kuroda did not make either of those starts in April, a month in which he struggled to learn AL hitters after spending his first four big league seasons in the National League with the Dodgers, the right-hander admitted last week. Kuroda opposed the Red Sox once in Interleague Play with Los Angeles, throwing seven innings of two-run ball in 2010 at Fenway Park.
The Yankees can expect a similar outing given Kuroda's recent run. The veteran righty has lasted at least seven innings in six of his past seven starts, posting a 1.65 ERA over that stretch with 44 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings.
Since New York lost CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to the disabled list on the same day last week, Kuroda became relied upon even more.
But the Red Sox like their chances with Beckett on the hill.
The right-hander did not start either of the two games against the Yankees earlier this season, but he was dominant against them in 2011, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA. Beckett has been nearly as strong as Kuroda of late, although he spent part of June on the disabled list with right shoulder soreness.
Beckett returned on Saturday to throw six innings of two-run ball, following a stretch of six consecutive starts in which he lasted at least seven innings and allowed more than two runs only twice.
"J.B., for his first time out after being on the DL, he did a great job," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the right-hander's last start. "His changeup was a little rusty, but all in all, he kept us in the ballgame and had a no-hitter going through five."
Yankees: McDonald to see rivalry from new side
Former Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald will join the Yankees' active roster for the series opener after the Yankees claimed him off waivers on Wednesday.
The Red Sox designated the 33-year-old McDonald for assignment on Saturday, when they had to make room on their roster to activate Beckett from the DL.
McDonald appeared in only 38 of Boston's first 77 games this season, batting .214 (18-for-99) with seven doubles, two homers, nine RBIs and 18 runs scored. He played all three outfield positions at Fenway Park and started one game in the first series between the AL East rivals, going 1-for-3 with an RBI double.
McDonald now finds himself on the other side of the rivalry, and he tweeted on Wednesday that he was "happy to announce I'm a new Member of the N.Y.Y." The Yankees designated right-hander Chris Schwinden for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Boston: Ortiz joins elite company
David Ortiz enters this weekend's series as one of eight active players with at least 400 career home runs; Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tops the list with 642 homers.
Ortiz hit the milestone home run on Wednesday against Oakland, leading off the fourth inning with a drive to right field. It was his 22nd home run of the season.
The left-handed-hitting slugger has hit 342 of his home runs with Boston, where he has spent the past 10 seasons. Thirty-seven of those homers came against the Yankees. Ortiz has hit more career home runs against only the Blue Jays (46) and Rays (40).
Ortiz's homer on Wednesday gave him sole possession of 49th place on the all-time list, breaking a tie with Andres Galarraga and Al Kaline.
Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano each enter the weekend riding double-digit hitting streaks. Gonzalez extended his AL-best streak to 15 games on Wednesday with an RBI single, while Cano's streak is at 11 games after his 2-for-5 performance against Tampa Bay in Wednesday's 4-3 win. Gonzalez is hitting .349 (22-for-63) in his stretch, while Cano is batting .444 (20-for-45) during his.
Friday marks the 79th anniversary of the first All-Star Game, a 4-2 win for the AL powered by a Babe Ruth home run. The former Red Sox and Yankees icon hit a two-run homer to back AL starter Lefty Gomez, who threw three scoreless innings.