By Neil Keefe
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The Yankees are back in Boston for the last time during the regular season, and maybe for the last time in 2011. The Yankees are just 2-10 against the Red Sox this season and 2-4 at Fenway.

It seems weird to have a midweek series between these two teams, but it’s a nice way to end August and begin September with the AL East once again on the line and just one game in the loss column separating these two teams.

As is usually the case when the Yankees and Red Sox play, Mike Hurley of joined me for an email discussion about the rivalry and the upcoming series.

Keefe: Yankees. Red Sox. Why wouldn’t I be emailing you? Maybe because I’m tired of the terrible trend that this has caused (the Yankees are 2-10 against the Red Sox and 0-4 in series). Nearly seven years ago, a man once said, “Things can change,” and I think they can and will this weekend at Fenway.

All I keep hearing about and have heard about since the Red Sox started out 2-10 is how awesome they have been. You wrote about this the other day. Meanwhile, the Yankees are one game out in the loss column, but I don’t feel that confident about them right now and the New York media as a whole isn’t high on them either despite packing the objective pipe and passing it around a few times. But in Boston, everyone is passing around the pitcher of Red Sox Kool-Aid and Bostonians are chugging it. None of this makes sense.

How can two teams so close in the standings despite an eight-game edge in head-to-head play have such different vibes and outlooks? I’m not scared of playing the Red Sox like everyone else seems to be. I’m scared of playing the Red Sox in the playoffs because of what it means and what comes with playing them in the playoffs. Everyone seems to be pulling for an ALCS matchup between these two, and maybe everyone forgot about seven and eight years ago and the heartache and stress that comes from these two teams playing. Like I have said to you a million times before, these series are much more fun for Boston fans since they have absolutely nothing to lose. If they win, they beat the Yankees and it’s the end of the world for Yankees fans. If they lose, well, it’s the Yankees and they were supposed to lose.

But back to my point: Why does it seem like the Red Sox are this Dream Team while the Yankees have lost a step even with first place up for grabs once again this week? Am I missing something or is 60 percent of the Red Sox rotation not John Lackey, Tim Wakefield and Andrew Miller?

Hurley: Neil. Good to see you.

Look, you need to stop thinking you have an influence on the Yankees. If the Yankees knew what you wrote about and talked about, then Joe Girardi would have choked you out with a full nelson and A.J. Burnett probably would have slashed your tires and put sugar in your gas tank by now.

As is usual when you say more than one sentence at a time, I disagree with more of what you said but can only address some of it. The thought that “Red Sox fans have nothing to lose” is a little insane. Maybe in 1999, the Red Sox had nothing to lose, but in case you were unaware, expectations in Boston are on par with those in New York every April. It’s championship or nothing here in Boston now, and any season that doesn’t end with another World Series trophy is considered a failure by most fans.

You’ll also remember that every single baseball “expert” picked Boston to be this year’s champion, so there’s that, too.

But why are the Red Sox considered so great and the Yankees seen quite differently? That’s easy, and you answered it in your first sentence: 2-10. When you go 2-10 against a team, that team is unequivocally, inarguably, absolutely better than you.

Now, you could use that to say that it’s even more impressive that the Yankees are where they are, but I don’t feel like doing that.

Your math is actually off — Wakefield, Lackey and Miller only make up 50 percent of the rotation, joining Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Erik Bedard. Wakefield might be on his way out of that mix, though. Lackey’s also 7-1 with a somewhat-respectable 4.11 ERA since July 9 and Miller went 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA in August. They’ve pitched well enough to make your joke not hold up.

You’re right, though, in saying the Yankees aren’t getting their proper due. With their sloppy rotation, their 2-10 record against the only opponent that matters and the injuries they’ve sustained, it’s a minor miracle that they are just a game and a half out of first with a chance to reclaim first place this week. But why aren’t they getting the positive attention from the rest of the country?  I think you know the reason why. Nobody likes the Yankees.

Keefe: My math is wrong and I forgot about the five-inning, 100-pitch phenomenon that is Erik Bedard. But you including him doesn’t help your cause or hurt my joke. The fact that you just tried to justify John Lackey AND then told Andrew Miller is good at baseball is kind of embarrassing and I feel slightly bad for you. There’s nothing like picking an arbitrary date in the middle of the season to start keep tracking of stats like you did with Lackey and July. I can play that game too … Did you know that on Aug. 26 from 7:17 until 7:23 (roughly) A.J. Burnett didn’t allow an earned run? But did you know that after that time frame, he allowed six earned runs in the second inning and nine total in five innings.

Your counter-argument about the “win now” mentality is a little off since it is nowhere close to level of what it is in New York. But I’m glad that you guys are starting to think this way also. Maybe it will weed out some of the pink hats and Sweet Caroliners. Or maybe it will do just the opposite and attract more of them.

I know you hate Bartolo Colon (3.63 ERA) and have a personal vendetta against Freddy Garcia (3.09 ERA), but they have actually been solid. Ivan Nova has won 14 games as a rookie, and Phil Hughes once in a while shows how he won 18 games last year. Then there’s A.J. Burnett who isn’t even worth me typing another sentence about. So, the Yankees rotation after CC isn’t as “sloppy” as you think it is.

Since I can see your Red Sox blinders are working in full effect today, let me ask you this because I haven’t asked you this yet: Who is your AL MVP right now?

Hurley: Picking dates like the beginning of July or the beginning of August isn’t exactly an arbitrary practice. It shows improvement as the season progresses, something you may have forgotten while watching the Yankees’ rotation regress over the past couple of months. Did you know that Bartolo Colon’s June ERA was 2.25 (granted, in limited action), then it climbed to 3.82 in July and 4.85 in August? And Freddy Garcia? The same Freddy Garcia who couldn’t last two innings against the Red Sox in June? Awesome. I’ll take my blinders over whatever you’ve got going on any day of the week.

On the MVP point, I can’t proceed without explaining how little value I place in these awards. Derek Jeter winning the 2006 Gold Glove was the clincher for me.

If you want to go on the standards that have been set with A-Rod winning in Texas, then there’s no question that the winner of this award should be Jose Bautista. The guy is the most outstanding player in baseball, and the award typically just goes to that player. What value he is providing to the fourth-place Blue Jays, I don’t know, but that’s the way it works.

But who do I really think deserves the MVP? I think there’s a strong case for Adrian Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson, because they’re outstanding hitters leading their teams to the playoffs. I would say Verlander should be in the mix, too, but if Pedro Martinez can’t win the MVP in 1999 or 2000, when he went a combined 41-10 with a 1.90 ERA, 597 strikeouts and 0.830 WHIP, then no pitcher can win this award. Sorry, Justin.

If I had to choose between Gonzalez and Granderson, I’d go with Gonzalez for his outstanding defense (something that rarely factors into these decisions, I know). I’d have no issue with Granderson winning, though, because his numbers are beyond absurd. I’m not sure even the Yankees envisioned him as a 90-RBI guy when they got him, let alone a 107-RBI guy on the last day of August.

I hope I entertained your question, but nothing excites me less than regular season awards, particularly when A-Rod wins the award for his Rangers when they finish 25 games out of first place in 2003.

Keefe: I completely agree with you (shocking). I’m more about the big picture and what happens in October than who wins the MVP award, but I thought I would ask you since I was waiting for 1,500 words on Jacoby Ellsbury’s candidacy and another 1,500 on Dustin Pedroia’s. And nothing is truer than your Pedro and Verlander comparison. If Pedro couldn’t win it those years then I’m not sure how a pitcher ever will again. Verlander isn’t on that same level though he is clearly the best pitcher in the AL. However I would rather face him than Jon Lester in a game for everything, but maybe that’s just me.

The last time we tried to predict how the Yankees-Red Sox series would turn out we were both wrong. Lester lost and then CC lost to Lackey. (Yes, I’m aware I said I would let you dump a beer over my head and then punch me in the face if this happened). And then on Sunday night Josh Beckett left the mound on the losing end of a 2-1 game before some unfortunate events took place.

John Sterling would be pissed if he knew we were trying to “predict” baseball again, but this week we have Sabathia-Lackey Part II, Hughes-Beckett and Burnett-Lester (which I’m actually considering not even watching). Aside from Tuesday night’s game, things aren’t exactly looking awesome from my side of this rivalry, and if the Yankees lose the game started by CC, we could be looking at a disaster. You never know which Phil Hughes will show up and A.J. Burnett’s line in five August starts is 22.2 IP, 44 H, 30 R, 30 ER, 9 BB, 17 K, 5 HR, 11.91 ERA, 2.338 WHIP, .415 BAA. Yes, that’s real life. And in his last three starts, he faced the three worst teams in the AL and in 12 1/3 innings, he has allowed 19 earned runs on 24 hits. I will be as far away from Fenway Park on Thursday as possible. Then again, Doug Davis did shut down the Yankees in June before being released by the Cubs, so there’s hope.

I will let you have the last word in this email exchange, but I want to know your thoughts on this midweek three-game series. And hopefully this is the last time I’m in Boston for baseball this season because hopefully the Yankees will be on the road for the ALCS in Texas, Anaheim or Detroit.

Hurley: I’m now considering buying some $150 tickets to Thursday night’s game just to take you. I’d also buy a seatbelt so you couldn’t leave your seat, because given your history at Fenway, it would likely turn out to be a historic offensive game for Boston, and I’d want to watch you suffer the whole time.

We were dead wrong about last time, but I like how you get right into this series, as if that never happened. This must be what it feels like to be an “expert.”

The most perplexing part of this year’s Red Sox-Yankees season series has been Mr. CC. How in the world can you go 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox and 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA against everyone else? How? It’s ludicrous.

Still, it’s just not within my fibers to ever bet against Sabathia. How could you? That said, it’s good to know that if he continues his season of stink against Boston on Tuesday night, the Red Sox are in a good position to sweep. That’s awesome.

But, Neil, as you well know, you can’t predict baseball, so I’m prepared for an A.J. Burnett no-hitter on Thursday night.

Oh, and when can I meet you to dump the beer on your head and punch you in the face? I’m free most evenings after 6 p.m. Meet me on Lansdowne Street?

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe