New York leads the AL East with an overall record of 76-47, which is also the top record in the American League. Boston sits a half-game behind the Bronx Bombers at 76-48 overall and has a healthy 8 1/2 game lead over Tampa Bay in the wild card standings. For either of these teams not to make the playoffs would take a historic collapse, as well as an unforseen late-season run by another wild card contender.
Boston and New York will meet each other six more times before the season is over with three games at Fenway Park the final week of August and three games at Yankee Stadium in late September. The teams have taken turns atop the division throughout the season, so August and September figure to feature a battle for the AL East crown.
But with the postseason a virtual lock at this point for the Red Sox, how important does the division crown become?
On the one hand, winning the division is every team's first goal in spring training, and in the case of the AL East, winning the division holds more incentive. The AL East winner is currently in line to also gain home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs, which would allow Boston to host the ALDS and ALCS, if the Sox advance that far. Having an extra game at Fenway with the AL pennant on the line is certainly preferable, whether the opponent be the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers or any other team.
On the other hand, setting the team up for its first playoff game is also of consideration to Terry Francona. After all, Boston is a little bang-ed up right now with Kevin Youkilis forced to go on the disabled list with a sore back and David Ortiz missing time with an ailing heel. Tito has also hinted at neck pain for Adrian Gonzalez. Rather than force these players into the lineup in late September, it may be advantageous for Francona to allow his stars to rest up for October, as well as give some off days to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia down the stretch.
Jade McCarthy - NESN