The New York Yankees ' four-game losing streak hasn't just hurt their chances of winning the AL East - it may be giving their archrival renewed faith in its remote wild-card hopes.
The Boston Red Sox would move within 4 1/2 games of New York if they complete their first three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium since 2004 on Sunday night.
The Yankees (92-63) have slipped behind first-place Tampa Bay in the division during their second four-game skid of September, and they may begin to feel some pressure from Boston in the wild-card race if they lose a fifth consecutive game for the first time all season.
The reigning World Series champions' magic number is three to clinch their 15th playoff berth in 16 years, but they'd certainly prefer to eliminate the Red Sox before the teams' three-game set at Fenway Park next weekend.
"We're still in a good spot," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We have seven games left to play, and our club needs to win three games. If you had said that Feb. 15th, all of us would have signed up for it."
Girardi, though, may be feeling the urgency of the situation. He made a late decision Sunday to start Phil Hughes (17-8, 4.31 ERA) over scheduled starter Dustin Moseley for the series finale. Girardi had been trying to limit Hughes' innings down the stretch, but the right-hander will try to win his second straight start to help the Yankees avert the sweep.
Hughes labored to a victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday, giving up three runs and four hits while walking five in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-3 win. He is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts versus Boston this year, but lost to the Red Sox in his most recent outing Aug. 9.
The Red Sox (86-68) won 10-8 in the series opener Friday night, then used seven shutout innings from Jon Lester to win 7-3 on Saturday.
Although Boston swept a two-game set in the Bronx on May 4-5, 2009, it hasn't swept a three-game series at New York since April 23-25, 2004 - the year the franchise ended an 86-year championship drought.
"We've got a chance," Lester said. "Weirder things have happened in baseball."
David Ortiz is doing his best to help, having posted three consecutive multi-hit games. He also had two RBIs Saturday, leaving him two short of his first 100-RBI season since 2007.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre is one RBI short of that milestone, which he hasn't reached since 2004.
The Red Sox may need support from both sluggers if Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-6, 4.86 ERA) can't improve on his recent performances Sunday.
The right-hander has allowed at least four earned runs in each of his last seven starts, going 1-3 with a 6.91 ERA in that stretch. He also has a 6.31 ERA in eight career starts against the Yankees.
While Lester quieted the Yankees on Saturday, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson both homered off Boston's bullpen. Rodriguez has three homers in this series, leaving him two shy of his 13th consecutive 30-homer season, while Granderson has six homers and 15 RBIs in his last 10 games.
Rodriguez is 2 for 19 against Matsuzaka, but Granderson has gone 6 for 11 with a homer in the matchup.
"We need somebody to go out and shut the door on the other team," Rodriguez said.