Five things to watch: Red Sox-Yankees

BOSTON -- The Red Sox lost two of three to the Yankees in the season's opening series, and enter this weekend's three-game set 6½ games behind first-place Tampa Bay, five games behind second-place New York and 1½ games behind third-place Toronto in the AL East.

"Those are going to be some good games,'' Pedroia said of playing the Yankees. "We just have to keep doing what we're doing.

"We know we haven't played well early. We don't want the three teams in front of us to get too far away. We've just got to play better.''

Five things to watch in this weekend's Red Sox-Yankees series at Fenway Park:

1. Get to the Yankees' bullpen

The three Yankee starters this weekend -- Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett -- are a combined 11-1 with a 2.16 ERA so far this season. The Red Sox need to run up those pitch counts as quickly as possible, especially with Yankees closer Mariano Rivera sidelined for five games with stiffness in his left side. The 40-year-old Rivera is expected to be available this weekend, but may be more vulnerable than usual.

2. Battle of the slugging second sackers

Sounds like a headline straight out of the '50s, doesn't it? Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano comes into the weekend second in the league in home runs (9) and slugging (.695), while third in the league in hitting (.362). Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia leads the Sox in homers (7) and RBIs (21) and has played exceptional defense of late.

"He's on another level, man,'' Pedroia said of Cano. "Fun to watch. I'd definitely pay to watch him hit, the way he plays.

"I think everyone has seen it. That first week at our place, the way he swung the bat. He hits every pitch. There really isn't a flaw in his swing. It's pretty fun to watch.''

3. Keep the late-night thrills coming

The Red Sox come into the weekend tied with the Cardinals for most runs scored from the seventh inning on, 52, and the winning run has scored from the seventh on in six of their last 10 wins.

4. Start strong, stay long

Since April 27, Red Sox starters have a 5-1 record and 1.99 ERA in the six games not started by Daisuke Matsuzaka. In all six games, they've gone at least 7 innings. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have both gone 8. This is how this club was built to win.

5. Keeping it in the yard

Red Sox relievers have to keep the ball on the premises. The Red Sox pen has allowed 17 home runs, most in the league.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.