The Boston Red Sox descend upon the Bronx for the first time this season Friday night, kicking off a three-game series against the New York Yankees after dropping two of three to the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field.

The series comes at a difficult time for the Red Sox, who’ve gone 5-12 since May 21, but perhaps it’s exactly what Boston needs to harden itself for the long haul. The Red Sox, at 31-32, now sit below .500 for the first time since falling to 13-14 on April 28. They’re 14 games behind the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays and five games back of the AL’s third wild-card spot.

And the Red Sox aren’t just losing, either. It’s been a rather ugly stretch for Alex Cora’s club, with inconsistent offense and poor defense among the many issues plaguing Boston as it stumbles through a tough point in the schedule. The Red Sox lost three of four to the Rays before this week’s hiccups in Cleveland, which culminated with a 10-3 loss Thursday night as José Ramírez and the Guardians pummeled Corey Kluber.

Good news for the Red Sox: They’re expected to have Adam Duvall back this weekend. He hasn’t played since fracturing his wrist in Detroit on April 9 but was excellent before landing on the injured list. So, perhaps he’ll provide a much-needed boost as Boston looks to right the ship.

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It won’t be easy, as the Yankees enter the weekend 10 games above .500 at 37-27. And although New York won’t have Aaron Judge, who’s on the IL with a toe injury, Boston will need to deal with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in Friday night’s series opener.

Red Sox odds (June 9)*
To win World Series: +8000
To win American League: +5500
To win AL East: +10000

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Oddsmakers are really souring on these Red Sox. Boston’s odds to win the World Series, at FanDuel Sportsbook, sat at +5000 just two weeks ago. They were +6500 last week.

Likewise, the Red Sox’s odds to win the American League went from +2500 to +5500 in a two-week stretch, while their odds to lock down the division went from +4000 to +10000.

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Obviously, this represents another opportunity to buy low on the Red Sox. But given their recent performance, and the performances of the teams in front of them in the standings, placing any futures wager on Boston would require you to swallow hard.

*Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

Probable pitchers
— Friday, June 9 (7:05 p.m. at Yankees): Garrett Whitlock, RHP (2-2, 5.61 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole, RHP (7-0, 2.82 ERA)

— Saturday, June 10 (7:35 p.m. at Yankees): Tanner Houck, RHP (3-5, 5.46 ERA) vs. Domingo German, RHP (3-3, 3.69 ERA)

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— Sunday, June 11 (7:10 p.m. at Yankees): Brayan Bello, RHP (3-4, 3.97 ERA) vs. Clarke Schmidt, RHP (2-6, 4.96 ERA)

Storylines to watch
1. Will Adam Duvall’s return reinvigorate Red Sox?
Duvall’s numbers over the first week-plus of the 2023 season were insane: .455/.514/1.030 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in eight games (37 plate appearances). Expecting that level of production — or for Duvall to singlehandedly save Boston’s season — would be foolish, but the Red Sox clearly need a spark right now. And thus, his return to the lineup comes at the perfect time. It’ll also be fascinating to see how Cora divvies up playing time in the outfield, as he’s already made it clear Jarren Duran will continue to see consistent plate appearances even with Duvall back in the mix.

2. What’s up with Rafael Devers?
It’s been a tough stretch for the All-Star third baseman, who’s now slashing .246/.299/.478 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs through 59 games (254 plate appearances). He’s batting just .214 with a .647 OPS this month and hasn’t homered since May 19. The underlying metrics remain strong, with a notable drop in BABIP, so perhaps it’s just a matter of time before he reasserts himself as one of MLB’s premier sluggers. But the recent results haven’t been good for a hitter whose production is so important to Boston’s offense.

3. How will Alex Verdugo respond to benching?
Cora benched Verdugo for Thursday’s series finale in Cleveland for not hustling on the bases Wednesday night. The skipper insisted he wasn’t necessarily trying to send a message to his team, but obviously, it’s an eye-opening move. Verdugo has been one of Boston’s best all-around players this season, and the Red Sox need him engaged and productive to dig out of their current hole.

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Featured image via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Images