Their team's place and seed in the postseason both secured, it doesn't matter to Red Sox fans whether the club wins or loses its final game of the regular season -- but on this final day of baseball's regular season, they do have something to root for:
In a season when eight of the 10 playoff teams have known for most of September that they were headed to the postseason, and six go into the final afternoon with their seed predetermined, the only real race has been for the AL's two wild card berths. Neither of them is yet claimed, and in the Red Sox' ideal scenario that'll still be true by the time the Patriots kick things off Sunday night in Atlanta.
That would lead to the mayhem, brought on by a chaotic tiebreaker scenario -- but the circumstances that would make real that possibility aren't crazy at all at this point. All it would take is a Rays win over the last-place Blue Jays, a Rangers win over the sub-.500 Angels, and the Indians to see their nine-game winning streak come to an end. (The Tribe plays the Twins.)
If that happens, all three teams will finish the regular season with 91 wins, and Tampa will travel to Cleveland to play a game on Monday. The winner gets one of the wild card spots, while the loser goes to Texas for a game on Tuesday. The winner of that game then takes on the winner of Monday's game on Wednesday, in the actual wild card play-in game.
The winner of that game then advances to a best-of-five divisional series that starts Friday at the home of the AL's top seed -- which, of course, is where the Red Sox come in.
If the Indians, Rays, and Rangers end up in a three-way tie, there's a decent chance that whichever team shows up at Fenway Park on Friday will do so already having been forced to play three playoff games, plus an important game on Sunday. Whichever team that is, that stressful stretch figures to put serious strain on their pitching staff, particularly when considering that they won't be able to align their starting rotation as they might otherwise do.
It would create a series of desperate situations, which would of course call for desperate measures, and under those circumstances perhaps Joe Maddon brings David Price out of his bullpen. Ron Washington uses Joe Nathan for multiple innings in a tie game. Or Terry Francona asks too much too soon of a recently injured Justin Masterson.
Any of those would bring upon mayhem within mayhem. And chaos could ensue in the event of a two-team tie, too -- which would happen if the Indians win while the Rays and Rangers match each other Sunday, or if all three teams lose.
The only situation that wouldn't really benefit the Red Sox is if the two seeds are decided within the original 162, and there's no need for knockout games before Wednesday, in part because it would require Boston's opponent to play just one additional game. But also because it would likely leave the wild card winner in a good spot as far as getting its pitching set up.
Matt Moore pitches for Tampa Bay on Sunday, when Ubaldo Jimenez goes for Cleveland, and Yu Darvish goes for Texas. Unless there are crazy circumstances that would entice his manager to use him before then, any of those three No. 1-types would then be lined up to pitch in Boston, on Friday, in Game 1, on regular rest. That would mitigate some of the advantage the Sox earned by securing the No. 1 seed at the end of the six-month marathon.
Under this playoff structure that's supposed to mean something. It's supposed to come with a reward.
And, as it turns out, the best way to maintain order as intended, is to let the mayhem ensue.
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