Good teams can win at home and on the road. So in that sense, locking up the American League’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs wasn’t the be-all and end-all for the Red Sox. It’s still pretty important, though.
Despite losing to the Orioles on Saturday, the Red Sox secured the AL’s best record by virtue of the Athletics falling to the Mariners. The Red Sox now have the luxury of knowing that they’ll open up each postseason series at Fenway Park, although them drawing the wild-card winner rather than the AL Central-winning Tigers in the ALDS is the most important development.
The Tigers are going to be a tough out. They’ve got a potent offense spearheaded by the game’s best hitter in Miguel Cabrera, and they’ve got a deep rotation comprised of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez — all four of whom rank in the top nine in defense-independent ERA. Detroit also has a chip on its shoulder after being swept by San Francisco in last year’s World Series.
But in addition to the Tigers simply being more talented than any of the three teams remaining in the AL wild card race — the Indians, Rays and Rangers — they would have arrived at Fenway Park in much better physical shape. The Tigers have locked up the AL Central and are ready to roll, whereas the eventual wild-card winner may have to go through a rough schedule before ever arriving at Fenway Park.
The Indians enter Sunday’s action with a one-game lead over the Rays and Rangers. If the Indians finish the day with a one-game edge over both, the Rays and Rangers will play a tiebreaker game in Texas on Tuesday to determine which team faces the Indians in the wild card game in Cleveland on Wednesday.
If there is a three-way tie atop the wild card standings, the Indians will host the Rays in a one-game playoff Monday. The winner will earn a berth in the wild-card game, and the loser will travel to Texas to face the Rangers on Tuesday in another one-game playoff. The winner of the game in Texas will then earn the second wild-card berth.
It’s a complicated situation, as you can see, but it’s possible that the Red Sox could host a team on Friday that just went through the wringer. For example, the Rays could end up playing Sunday in Toronto (regular season finale), Monday in Cleveland, Tuesday in Texas and Wednesday in Tampa Bay before penciling in a date with the Red Sox in Boston on Friday.
Hello, jet lag. Let’s just say that it’s a schedule that Adrian Gonzalez would not approve of.
Obviously, we’ll have to see how Sunday shakes out. But even in the least chaotic circumstance — the Indians playing either the Rays or Rangers in the wild-card game Wednesday without any prior tiebreaker games — the Red Sox are better off facing the wild-card winner than the Tigers, for various reasons.
And while opening up at Fenway Park might not be the most important aspect of the Red Sox securing the AL’s top seed, it shouldn’t be taken lightly, either. Mike Timlin said during Friday’s Red Sox broadcast on NESN that sleeping at your own place and going through a normal home routine is a big advantage for a player during the postseason, and it’s obvious that these guys enjoy playing in front of the home crowd. After all, the Red Sox posted an AL-best 53-28 record at home in 2013.
“That’s what we wanted. That’s why you play. It’s a huge advantage. From 200 — you get the last couple games in the ALCS at home, that helps. Then the next year, we had to go to Tropicana to play, it’s a big difference,” Pedroia told reporters in Baltimore on Saturday. “That’s a pretty big accomplishment for our team. There’s a lot of great teams. We’ve got the best record. It sets us up nicely. We’ve still got to go out and play well, obviously. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing. But it helps us that we get to hit last.”
The Red Sox are going to be tough to beat every time they take the field in October, regardless of where they are or who they are playing. A little edge never hurt, though, and the Red Sox put themselves into a good position by keeping their foot on the gas down the stretch.