With the exception of a close out game in the World Series, the new baseball wild-card game may be the most exciting game that is played over the course of the season. Millions will tune into TBS to watch it, and among those millions will be the players of the Boston Redsox.
The game will be played against the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays. The winner will play the Sox in the ALDS.
So who are the Redsox rooting for? Lets take a look at the teams themselves:
They had a pretty consistent season, hovering around the top of the AL Central standings. They fell off a little bit in July and August, but they turned it around in September. During this last month, they went 16-6 to propel them into a wildcard spot. Since the All-Star break, they have gotten a lot out of their starting pitching, even without their ace Masterson for part of that time. The staff has an ERA of 3.13 during that stretch. Jimenez especially has stepped up. He posted a 1.82 ERA while averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine innings, ultimately re-establishing himself as one of the most dominating pitchers in the league like he was back with the Rockies.
The other three starters look to be Kazmir, Kubler, and possibly McCalister. All of those guys had an ERA at or around four, and have been solid for the Indians. Salazar has pitched a bit in the number five starter spot and has been the most dominant of the three, but his youth and his inning limit may keep him out of the rotation. Nobody outside of Jimenez has shut-down stuff, but at least all of the starters have been reliable and can be counted on to give the Indians good innings in the playoffs.
Cleveland, despite having no ‘big-named’ hitters, has put up some solid numbers as a team. They tied for the fifth most runs, drew the fifth most walks, and had the eighth best OPS in the league. In four of the most important offensive categories (BA, HR, RBI, OBP) the Indians have four different hitters leading them (Brantley, Swisher, Kipnis, Santana). Kipnis and Santana were probably their best offensive players, both sporting an OWAR of above five. The Indians got production out of every offensive position and were a patient team at the plate, which allowed them to put up some good offensive numbers. Even though the team does not have a superstar in their lineup, they will find a way to grind pitchers and score runs.
Cleveland’s bullpen also did a solid job this season. They were around the middle of the pack in ERA, but were just third in losses. They did not give up too many leads, which is what a manager wants in their bullpen. They did have some closer troubles with Chris Perez, but there have been rumors that ace Justin Masterson will be shifting over to that role, which would give them a legitimate closer and help stabilize the rest of the bullpen.
Overall, Cleveland is a lot like the Redsox. They made a lot of offseason acquisitions of veteran role players that came together and played very well under Terry Francona. This led them to far exceed expectations and get 92 wins. The team does not have any noticeable superstars, which could explain why they have done so poorly against good teams. They went an abysmal 26-52 against teams with above .500 records and went just 1-6 against Boston and 4-15 against Detroit. It is a good thing they had the 24th easiest record, or else they could have just missed the playoffs. They are a very solid team with no glaring weakness, but because they have no superstars and have a poor record against winning teams they should be no match for the Redsox.
Tampa Bay Rays:
Tampa finished second in the AL East with a 91-71 record. They had a very streaky season, beginning the season poorly, hovering below .500. They were at the bottom of the AL east until the beginning of July, when they had a hot streak. The hot streak carried them all the way to the AL East lead, where they battled the Redsox for first place in the division until the end of August, when they again hit another cold streak. They did snap out of it just in the last 10 days of the season, when they went 8-2 to force a wild-card play-in game against Texas—a game in which they won.
Tampa was not supposed to have good hitting coming into the season. They, like the Indians, do not really have any big-named, middle of the line-up hitters that pitcher are afraid to pitch against. Evan Longoria, as the season went along, established himself as that guy. In 160 games, Longoria hit 32 homeruns and had 88 RBIs, generating an OWAR of 4.9. The team, as the season went along became crafty in order to score runs. They took more walks than any other team. Because of this, they had an OBS of .329 and an OPS of .737, which was fourth and seventh in baseball. This was very tough on opposing pitchers, who even though were not facing a powerhouse line-up, had trouble facing the team. The hitters were also very resilient, as the Rays had a winning record in extra innings and in one-run games. This could prove costly to the Redsox, if the Ray’s pitching manages to keep the Redsox from scoring a lot of runs.
Tampa’s pitching is what makes the team dangerous. In a five game series, the Redsox could potentially see David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer. All four pitchers are dominant pitchers, who on a normal team would all be one or two starters. Each of the pitchers has a sub-3.33 ERA and a sub 1.3 WHIP. The pitchers also match up well against the Redsox starters.
The problem for the Rays has been their bullpen. Their bullpen has lost the game for their starters on 24 occasions and has an ERA of 3.59. This puts them in the lower half of the league in both categories. Outside of closer Joel Peralta, the team has a lot of question marks in its bullpen.
The goal for the Redsox against the Rays is to take a lot of pitches against their starters to try and knock them out of the game early, so they can hopefully score some runs against the relievers. They have been very good at this all season, which is why the Redsox sport a 12-7 record against the Rays. Hopefully they can continue this if they face the Rays in the ALDS.
Who do the Redsox want to face?
If I were the Redsox, I would rather face the Indians. Even though the Redsox have posted a winning record against each team, The Rays would certainly give them a lot of trouble in a five game series. The Rays have the deepest rotation in the league, and despite their bullpen struggles, they still have a stronger bullpen then the Redsox. The Rays have also been a contender for the last few seasons and have valuable playoff experience. This could come in handy against the seasoned Sox Veterans. The Indians have a very solid team, but they lack a lot of star power. They don’t have extremely strong pitching, which could spell their demise against the Redsox, who have scored the most runs in baseball. They also do not have the bats to keep up with the Redsox high-powered offense. This could be why they have done so badly against teams with an above .500 record.
In the playoffs anything can happen. Even if the Indians had a poor record against .500 teams, their veterans could once against emerge in a five games series to topple the Sox. The Rays hitters may get hot and also do the same. There is no knowing what will happen in a best-of-five series, which is why I will be watching every moment of it, regardless of who wins tonight.