BOSTON — This year’s American League wild card race is going to be — get this — wild. Six teams are vying for two spots, and the madness will culminate with a one-game playoff to determine who will join the three division winners in the ALDS.
The Red Sox have a stranglehold on the AL East and shouldn’t have to worry too much about the wild card race, but it’d be understandable if curiosity caused them to sneak a peek at what’s happening amongst their AL brethren. The glances have been few and far between, though, as the Red Sox seem to realize that securing their own playoff spot is the top priority with less than three weeks to play.
“That would be a distraction,” John Farrell said whe asked if he’s keeping a watchful eye on the AL wild card race, “and I think we’ve done a very good job of keeping that at bay.”
The Red Sox enter Friday’s game against the Yankees with an 8 1/2-game lead in the AL East. Their magic number to secure the division is eight and, according to ESPN.com, they have a 99.9 percent chance of making the postseason. In reality, the Red Sox have a playoff spot all but locked up. But given what happened in 2011, the reluctance to look ahead makes sense.
“I’m aware of who’s involved and know that it’s certainly tightened up, but no, not above and beyond that,” Farrell said. “I’m not even considering who might we see. We’ve got to get there first and that’s the beacon; [it] is what we’re doing, not so much what everybody else is doing.”
While the Red Sox might be paying minimal attention to what everyone is doing around them, it wasn’t long ago that it looked like Boston could end up playing in the one-game wild card playoff. Obviously, Farrell prefers the position that the Red Sox are currently in.
“There’s probably two views,” Farrell said Friday. “I think in spring training, you’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign up for a one-game play-in’ at the time in spring training. But then when get through it and you’ve gone 162 games, you hate to see a season in the balance in one game. We’re not here to change the rules, but there’s an awful lot that goes into a nine-inning game.”
There are only 14 games separating the Red Sox from playoff baseball — assuming that they hang onto their commanding lead. During that time, they’ll likely have the luxury of giving players some rest and trying out some new tactics, particularly in their bullpen. Things won’t be so laid back for a host of other teams, though, and we should be in store for some exciting games to close out September.
“It’s great,” Farrell said. “I can’t imagine what the final week of the season is going to be. I think the second wild card has really played into that. The meaning to every game played throughout that final week is heightened and this year might be tenfold what it was a year ago.”
The idea of having two wild card spots has been a polarizing topic since its implementation prior to the 2012 season. But it’s also giving teams that would otherwise be on life support a chance to stand up and make tons of noise down the stretch.