NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — It must be hard for Yankees ace CC Sabathia to not wonder what could be heading into this week’s huge series against the Red Sox.

With a few better performances against Boston, Sabathia could be having a Cy Young Award-caliber season rather than just an outstanding one.

He could also have the Yankees in first place.

Instead, the Red Sox remain atop the AL East entering the archrivals’ three-game series at Fenway Park, and they’d improve to 11-2 against the Yankees if they can beat Sabathia for a fifth time in 2011 on Tuesday night.

“I’ve faced all of those guys a lot,” said Sabathia. “When I’m right, I can beat anybody.”

In his first two years as New York’s ace, Sabathia (17-7, 2.99 ERA) was usually sharp in this rivalry, going 4-1 with a 3.04 ERA in eight starts.

It’s been a completely different story this season, with the big left-hander losing all four meetings – allowing at least six runs in each of the last three. He is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston and 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA versus all other opponents.

“Believe me, it’s not like we go, ‘We’re going to lunch up on him,'” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Aug. 6 after his club’s most recent shellacking of Sabathia. “He’s really good. He’s had his way with a lot of teams, and we give him a good battle.”

Sabathia’s hardly been alone in the New York clubhouse in having trouble with the Red Sox. Boston has piled up 75 runs in the teams’ 12 meetings, clinching the season series with six games still to play.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are all batting below .200 against the Red Sox this year. Jeter hopes to play Tuesday after missing two games with a bruised kneecap, but Rodriguez may miss a third straight contest after having an MRI on his left thumb Monday.

“We need to play well,” Jeter said. “They have a great team. Everyone knows that. It’s a challenge for us.”

Dustin Pedroia is hitting .439 against the Yankees this year, going 6 for 10 against Sabathia. Jacoby Ellsbury, who has a team-high 13 RBIs versus New York, is 4 for 8 with a home run off New York’s ace.

Even Carl Crawford, batting .178 against left-handers during his dismal first season with Boston, went 3 for 3 against Sabathia in the 10-4 win earlier this month.

“They have a good lineup … they wear on you,” Sabathia said.

Sabathia hasn’t been at his best in his last four starts, posting a 5.72 ERA with opponents batting .321 and the Yankees (80-52) losing three of those games.

Counterpart John Lackey (12-9, 5.98) hasn’t been right for most of the season, but he managed to beat Sabathia on Aug. 6, allowing three runs in six innings.

The right-hander has been the beneficiary of bountiful run support lately, going 7-1 in his last nine starts despite a 4.11 ERA – still an improvement from his woeful first half.

He’s recorded between 18 and 20 outs while allowing between three and five runs in each of his last five outings, including an 11-5 win over Texas last Tuesday.

“It’s huge. Consistency. You know what you’re going to get,” Francona said. “This is Lackey. It took us a while.”

It also took the Red Sox (82-51) a while to finish a doubleheader sweep of Oakland on Saturday, but they outlasted three rain delays that totaled about four hours to complete the series before the worst parts of Hurricane Irene arrived.

The Yankees have played three games since the last time Boston took the field. They waited out the storm in Baltimore, then split a doubleheader Sunday before beating the Orioles 3-2 on Monday to move within 1 1/2 games of the Red Sox.

Nick Swisher’s two-run shot Monday was his sixth homer in seven games, but he hasn’t gone deep in 43 at-bats against Boston this year, striking out 13 times.

Will the Yankees be in first place come Friday morning? Make your prediction in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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