With the Red Sox off Wednesday and the Sea Dogs rained out, we have time to ponder the next four days as the New York Yankees come limping into Fenway Park.

Limping?

The Yankees dropped a 7-5 home game to the hapless Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday afternoon.

The New York Post headline: “Yankees do everything wrong in horrible tune-up for showdown”

Reminds me of the 2000 season.

It was June 19, and the Yankees were a couple games ahead of Boston in the AL East. New York had just been embarrassed at home by the White Sox, losing 17-4.

The Yankees “limped” into Fenway and beat the Red Sox, 22-1.

This time, we’re in August, and it’s Boston (75-34) in first place, 5½ games ahead of New York (68-38), with a four-game cushion in the loss column.

Thursday’s matchup is big, but no so big that the Red Sox will risk the health of their ace. Chris Sale, who insisted he could pitch if needed, is skipping a start to rest his sore shoulder.

Instead, Boston will go with a softer-throwing lefty, Brian Johnson. In his six starts, Johnson has a 1.80 ERA. He has yet to start against New York this season, but relieved in three games (0.00 ERA in 42/3 innings, holding the Yankees to two hits).

Johnson throws a lot of pitches and averages five innings a start. That could mean a busy night for the bullpen, an area where team president Dave Dombrowski didn’t make any additions before the trade deadline Tuesday. Dombrowski said he likes his current group of relievers, and Thursday could be a good test for the bullpen.

New York counters with ageless left-hander CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.53). Sabathia, 38, is 1-0 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts against Boston this year. Sabathia averages just over 51/3 innings a start, but he has baseball’s deepest bullpen behind him, especially with the addition of Zach Britton, acquired from the Orioles.

Friday’s starters are Rick Porcello vs. Luis Severino.

Saturday was supposed to be a duel between the new guys, Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi against New York’s J.A. Happ, who has a 2.98 lifetime ERA vs. the Red Sox. But Happ has contracted hand, foot and mouth disease – something never discussed in baseball circles until the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard came down with it on July 21. Syndergaard returned on Wednesday.

Both Boston and New York have concerns. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is out because of a broken wrist. Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts’ right hand was hit by a 99 mph fastball Tuesday night. Although X-rays were negative, Bogaerts was hit on the same hand last July and slumped the rest of the season.

The four-game series wraps up Sunday night with David Price opposed by Masahiro Tanaka.

Will the AL East race be any clearer after Sunday? There’s a lot of baseball left, including six more games between these two teams.

THE SEA DOGS will play a doubleheader at noon Thursday against the Erie SeaWolves to make up Wednesday’s washout. Portland will start two of its crafty lefties, Matt Kent and Kyle Hart.

Portland is in the middle of a weeklong homestand. The Richmond Flying Squirrels come to town Friday.

RELIEVERS KEEP moving up the Red Sox system. The Sea Dogs, who lost Travis Lakins and Matt Gorst to promotions to Triple-A, welcomed right-hander Jared Oliver from Salem. Since June 22, Oliver has recorded a 1.32 ERA, allowing nine hits over 271/3 innings. He was a 26th-round draft pick in 2016 out of Truett McConnell University in Cleveland, Georgia.

To replace Oliver in Salem, the Red Sox promoted Durbin Feltman, a third-round draft pick in June from Texas Christian University. Feltman, with a killer fastball and slider, has only pitched in 11 games – four in Lowell and seven in Greenville. He has a 1.64 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and has struck out 21 of the 42 batters he has faced, with only one walk.

Maybe he’ll be in Portland in two weeks.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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