Those with an eye on October matchups will be watching the Red Sox during their four-game series in Texas this week. If the postseason began today, those two teams would make up one of the American League's two first-round series.
If the Rangers have their way with the Red Sox, as they have in recent years, it will provide more ammunition for those in the "let's win the division" camp. Texas is a good team and that will only make them look better. If Boston takes care of business, those who are content with a wild card berth and an avoidance of Justin Verlander in the opening round will feel pretty good about their argument.
But is there not merit to playing well in a place that has turned into a house of horrors, and against a team that seems to have your number? If the Sox are to win the wild card and draw a first-round visit to Arlington, wouldn't you want them heading into that dangerous spot without any lingering doubt?
When Boston dropped three games in Texas in ugly fashion to start the year, it was the continuation of a one-sided series between the two teams. The Red Sox dropped seven of nine meetings with the Rangers in 2009 and were 4-6 against them in 2010. They have lost 10 of their last 12 games in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The margin of victory in the Texas sweep this April was 26-11, and Boston didn't recover for another week or so.
There may not be an empirical formula to calculate the emotional impact of such imbalance between two teams. However, we have seen some regular-season strangleholds extend into October in the past. The Minnesota Twins haven't won a season series with the Yankees since 2001 and have lost four times to them in the playoffs in that time. Ask them if taking a few games in August in the Bronx means anything. You very well might get an affirmative response.
This need to succeed takes on even more significance in the series opener.
C.J. Wilson, the Rangers' starter Monday night, is not the greatest pitcher in baseball, but he is Texas' definitive ace. And against the Sox, he certainly acts like the greatest pitcher in baseball. Sure, everyone wants to avoid Verlander in a potential ALDS, but if you face Wilson twice in a best-of-five, and if he looks anything like he has in prior meetings, then you'll be pining for an encounter with Detroit — Wilson is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in four career starts against Boston, all in the last two seasons.
Without Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz and likely Jacoby Ellsbury, maybe that doesn't mean all that much. But if the Rangers, and Wilson, continue to dominate the Red Sox, it is guaranteed that you will remember it if they meet in October. And if you remember it, it's a safe bet the players do as well.