COMMENTARY | The way the Boston Red Sox have been rolling for much of September, it feels like nothing can stop this train. Except the Boston Red Sox.
With a handful of games remaining, the Red Sox have clinched the AL East, far exceeding anyone's expectations for the season. But the year is not over, and there is still work to be done. The Oakland Athletics are hot on their heels for the AL's best record and the right to face the wild-card survivor in the division round.
The difference between the first and second seed cannot be overstated. One earns a home date with the Detroit Tigers -- themselves still marginally in the hunt for a higher seed -- while the other welcomes a wild card to town.
After their series in Colorado, the Red Sox have an off-day before traveling to Baltimore to finish out the year. Given the marathon that the remaining teams in contention are running, they could be out of gas by the time they reach the ALDS. They will have had to fight tooth-and-nail just to reach the postseason, possibly by way of a one-game playoff before winning the actual wild-card round. With the No. 1 seed, the Red Sox could be well-rested by the time they begin that series.
Though they are not old by any means, the Red Sox do have an older pitching staff than teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, a possible opponent, so every day they're not pitching is a relief.
Baltimore has been a house of horrors the last few seasons for Boston, with 2011 being especially painful. The recently eliminated Orioles have nothing left to play for, expect to spoil the Red Sox's bid. On the other hand, the Athletics finish up their series in Anaheim before traveling to the Seattle Mariners, who have apparently packed it in for the season, going 7-15 in September.
The Tigers may yet end up visiting Fenway at some point in the postseason, but avoiding them in the first round would be, needless to say, huge. They have a starting rotation that can give the Red Sox fits, boasting an ERA that's 0.23 lower than anyone else in the AL. They also have an offense that can keep pace with Boston's, ranking second to the Red Sox in most batting categories.
They can pitch and they can hit, a recipe for postseason success.
Step one to reaching the postseason has been achieved. The Red Sox are AL East champions and will likely have home-field advantage against whomever they play in the first round, but there's still work to be done.
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