< Back to Front Page Text size +

Halo, wild card

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2008 09:16 AM

So, itíll be the Angels then.

Yeah, yeah, it remains just a two-game deficit with 10 games on the schedule, but seeing as the Red Sox have only even sniffed first place in the AL East for a scant 24 hours since the end of June, it's safe to assume the Red Sox are wild card ďchampsĒ for the fourth time in six years.

Itís not like they didnít have the prime opportunity to open the ALDS at home vs. what is increasingly looking like would have been the White Sox. Youíd figure six head-to-head showdowns with Tampa Bay would have given them the fortitude to go out and deliver the message. ďNot yet, juniors. Itís still our division.Ē

Instead, the Red Sox gagged the opportunity away, dropping four of six to the Rays, who, remember, were supposed to have fallen off the board by now based on their difficult September schedule. In fact, the Rays are just 6-8 this month, and have struggled to keep the rhythm that has carried them this season.

Except against Boston.

The worst part about all this is that, should there be a Red Sox-Rays ALCS (and based on the nailbiters between the two this season, not to mention the antagonism, it would no doubt be a fascinating series) Tampa Bay will have the home-field advantage, which means the possibility of four games being played in a ballpark with Wiffleball rules. Thatís nine more innings for something to go wrong at the pinball Trop. Can you imagine the outrage should the AL pennant should come down to the bottom of the ninth, and Carlos Pena hits a shot off the catwalk to win the title for Tampa Bay? The repercussions would be so unending that itís best just not to think about it.

Anyway, it will be the Angels in just about a fortnight from now, obviously not the matchup Red Sox fans wanted. The Sox are just 1-8 this season against the Angels, a regular-season mark that will have little to do with anything come October, but itís all we have to work with right now. In fact, as encouraging as Josh Beckettís performance was on Tuesday night, howís this for popping the bubble: Since the All-Star break, Boston is just 6-13 vs. the three teams likely to accompany it to the postseason dance (0-6 vs. the Angels, 2-4 vs. the Rays, and 4-3 vs. the White Sox).

Last season, the Sox were 9-3 against the Angels, and 9-4 vs. the Indians in the regular season, beating both en route to the World Series. For whatever itís worth.

Boston is also 3-0 all-time vs. the Angels in postseason play, including a nine-game winning streak. So, thereís that.

Itís also safe to consider that 1-8 mark somewhat deceiving. After all, the Red Sox of the post Manuel Ramirez era are a decidedly different team than the one that was bound for a plodding quest for identity. The last time they faced off, in fact, was in the final days of Mannyís staged ultimatum. Boston is 28-15 since then, the second-best record in the game since the trading deadline.

The best mark belongs to the Houston Astros, whose 30-14 record since July 31 most likely wonít be good enough to make it. (Thank Ike and Bud for that.)

That means, by skill of deduction, the Red Sox could head into October with the best final-third mark of the season among all playoff teams. And what have we learned? All together, now:

The first-third of a baseball season is about surveying what you have.

The second-third is about fixing your shortcomings.

The final third is about watching your team hit, pitch, and field its way to the playoffs.

Nobody else headed to the playoffs has done the last part (maybe even the first two parts) better than Theo Epsteinís Red Sox.

Thatís the good news. The bad is that a cross-country trip beckons for the first round, a shortcoming that didnít affect Boston too much in 2004, but not exactly the preferred avenue either. The worse news is that should Tampa Bay handle the White Sox, the ALCS will open at Tropicana Field, where Boston is, coincidentally, 1-8 this season, the same as its season mark against the Angels.

The Rays can clinch a playoff spot as soon as tomorrow night, their magic number down to two (It stands at 10 for the division). Bostonís playoff magic numeral is just four, which means by the end of this weekend, they can start to make playoff plans, juggling their rotation and telling Tim Wakefield and Paul Byrd that, at this point, they've just decided to flip a coin.

Maybe theyíll get amorous and make a last-week push for the division, but really, should they? Did we learn nothing in 2005, when Matt Clement, David Wells, and Wakefield took the mound, and Curt Schilling was merely a bystander in a three-game sweep at the hands of Chicago?

Would you rather have the wild card and open up in Anaheim with Beckett and Jon Lester on the hill, or the AL East title with Byrd pitching Game 1 at Fenway? Stay the course with eyes on the division, and Beckett likely wouldnít pitch until Game 3.

Nothing wrong with the wild card, even if it is the Angels in lieu of the White Sox. And while I can imagine nothing more intriguing and captivating than a Red Sox-Rays ALCS, the mere presence of that blunder of a ballpark in a series of that magnitude should put everyone with any relevant interest on notice that something is going to happen.

But hey, the Red Sox had their chance to ensure that at least one fewer game is played there. For now, itís Chicagoís problem. It should be entertaining to watch Ozzie Guillen react once he realizes Penaís shot is still sitting up in the air somewhere, resting on a catwalk that you just know will come into play at least once come next month.

34 comments so far...
  1. Eric Wilbur, you are a weasel. You and Shaugnessy act like you are happy when something bad happens to the team. Bitch and moan. You say they gagged opportunities away? What about the possibility that the Rays outplayed us? They are good you know? They cannot win every game. But, that';s fine with you. Every time they lose you'll have something to write about.

    Posted by David S. Moore September 18, 08 10:14 AM
  1. This was truly decided on the field. The upstart Rays won two series against the defending champs, including one at Fenway. The Red Sox simply needed to split to keep this competitive. They didn't and now, barring a flop by the Rays after they clinch the playoffs, its the Wild Card route for the Red Sox. If Drew can't get healthy and Lowell can't contribute at least part of the time, as the lineup last night revealed, the Sox are the team of 2005, not 2007.
    That said, I'll take Beckett and Lester in the first two in Anaheim any day.
    PS I'm surprised the talking baseball heads haven't been apopletic over the sham treatment the Astros got in the face of Ike. Selig's bag job still may not save his Brewers, but come on... a HOME game in MILWAUKEE, 90 miles from Chicago. The beer swilling boys I know from Brew Town probably showed up just to root against the Astros. What a crock. Had this happened to Boston, the Tea Party would have looked like civil discord.

    Posted by Scott from San Fran September 18, 08 10:17 AM
  1. Brewers fans can't win there since they aren't about to cheer for the Cubs. And I completely agree that the Astros got screwed.

    Posted by Jeff from Alexandria September 18, 08 10:50 AM
  1. Colon could give us a competitive start or two for the division title. He's not headed for the postseason roster.

    Posted by Brian W. September 18, 08 11:36 AM
  1. The Sox gagged away the opportunity. The Rays choked on Monday. It's not that he's happy when things go wrong for the Sox, he just likes hyperbole.

    How about waiting a week to put this column up? With the way the Sox and the Rays have played everyone else besides each other, I don't think this division is wrapped up just yet. Then again, Wilbur did decide in August last year that the Sox couldn't win the World Series. He has a habit of jumping the gun.

    EW: Duly noted.

    Posted by J-Bone September 18, 08 12:21 PM
  1. red sox fan in florida here. you seem like the kind of guy who could be given a bugatti veyron, for free, and complain because its blue, and not black. ive never seen anybody so consistently negative. im not talking about strictly with the bosox. im talking about every article you write there is ALWAYS something negative about somebody. the rays fans suck (they do, but broccoli is green, and everybody knows that...dont need to be reminded), impending doom for this team, nyy pitching sucks...ALWAYS something

    Posted by kevin September 18, 08 12:32 PM
  1. If you think this team is like the 05 team Scott, then you have no understanding of baseball. That team did not have any pitcher resembling a true ace, while this team has 2. That team had Mike Timlin closing out games. this team has Papelbon. That team also had an old offense that was full of holes as the season ended, not the case this year.

    Posted by Tom September 18, 08 12:42 PM
  1. Great article. These "yahoos" have a difficult time reading the truth about their beloved team. Kudos for actually expressing your own opinion, instead of falling prey to the groupthink that envelopes us on a daily basis from the herd at WEEI and from the beat writers. The Rays payroll is what, 1/3 of that of the Red Sox? When the Red Sox lose to a team with less talent, I don't think it's a stretch to say that they "gagged". The reality is that this team has failed to prove that they can win on the road against quality opponents, and this lineup does not strike fear into the hearts of their competition without Manny and with a banged up Papi having a subpar season.

    Posted by Meter999 September 18, 08 02:25 PM
  1. Meter999, This yahoo noticed that Lowell is playing with a torn labrum and Bay wasn't present for the last two games. At least point that out too.

    Posted by sday September 18, 08 02:42 PM
  1. I was at the Rays / Sox game on Tuesday and Beckett pitch a GEM. As a fan of Baseball it is a shame he lost. As a Rays fan I am glad that they won of course. Too bad Becket doesn't traditionally get the run support he deserves.
    This is a great rivalry. The Red Sox fans I knoware passionate not just about their team... but about the game. All the Sox fans I am friends wilth know about the GAME not just the TEAM and I respect that!
    I cannot believe a E.W. is complaining about the Trop when the alternative is a 37 foot left field and a 3 - 5 ft right field fence. Fenway has tons more personality than the Trop but neither field is "Perfect". Quit whining and PLAY BALL!!

    Posted by Reasonable Rays Fan September 18, 08 03:03 PM
  1. The truth always sits somewhere in the middle. The Rays have been winning close and late all season long, and the Sox haven't. But all in all, the Sox have slightly better starters, and except for Sonnanstine's amazing run of late (talk about playing over your head) the Sox would have taken these two series.

    No, it's not fair to say the Sox gagged. There were essentially three kinds of games against the Rays in these two series: 1) Rays starters flop (Kazmir, Jackson) and the Sox cruise 2) Sox starter flops (Wakefield) and 3) Pen vs. Pen matchups, and the Rays won all three as you'd expect because of their significant lead in middle relief and setup men.

    You could argue that bullpens matter the most in the playoffs, but that wasn't the clincher for the Sox in either '04 or '07. They had holes then and they have them now. The Rays play exceptionally well in their band box, lose their hitting edge on the road (not so many carpet singles and cheap homers) so they desperately need home field advantage to succeed in the playoffs.

    Still, the Sox played hard and well in both these series and without the Sonnanstine Miracle, the Rays would be hanging their heads right now.

    Posted by Pay Bay September 18, 08 03:09 PM
  1. Nothing is decided yet, Rays have shown they are resiliant, so are the Sox. Anything can happen, as Yogi said Hey Boo Boo lets go steal a pic-nic basket (the ALE), we all know what the other Yogi said.

    Posted by Scott September 18, 08 03:43 PM
  1. Hey kid,

    Great article, about the Sox & their likely match up with the Angels.

    Season on the line, with two series against the Rays... you take game 1, in both series (convincingly) & then proceed to loose, the remaining four games!


    Start clearing out the calendar, hopefully we'll have a solid month of playoff baseball to enjoy!

    Talk to you soon,


    Posted by Al September 18, 08 03:45 PM
  1. And last year, the Yankees were 6-0 against Cleveland. And look how that turned out.

    Posted by Amy September 18, 08 03:47 PM
  1. "Rays are just 6-8 this month"

    The red sox are doing well

    It isn't over yet, it just is harder now than before.

    Gagged? The Rays are good - this doesn't mean the sox choked.

    Posted by dk September 18, 08 04:18 PM
  1. the Sox weren't in first place at any point this week.

    Posted by Soxer September 18, 08 04:39 PM
  1. Yes I agree that the sox will probably be the wild card again this year but with this caveat, they would have won thier division hands down without all the injuries and distractions they've had during this season. I didn't go to M.I.T.so I don't know the exact number of games where one or more of the starting nine did not play though I'ld be willing to bet that the Sox lost more starters during the season than any other team in baseball,not to count the players who just played anyways like Pedroia,Youkilis,Ellsbury,Tek,....Lowell has been injured for the last 2 months,J.D. Drew has missed at least a month,Beckett missed 3 weeks,Tek has been sick all season,Crisp missed 3 wks.,Wakefirld was out for a couple of weeks,Dice-K missed a month.I'm sure I missed other injuries like lugo. This team has done a remarkable job just staying in the race...Manny put a big strain on the team while he was here and hopefully the baseball gods are watching so he'll get his gready payback in the playoffs!!!! I'm proud of the way the team has performed as a whole
    and I think they can get back to the World Series. Winning it maybe another question..

    Posted by sportsbozo1 September 18, 08 04:54 PM
  1. We won the first game of both series, got a great game from Beckett in game two of each series, and couldn't score more than one run off Andy (Fifth Starter) Sonnenstein in either game. We have almost no chance of beating Tampa (or Anaheim) in a low-scoring game, bullpen vs. bullpen. That's not negative -- it just IS. And in both series, Tampa played great in the third game with the pressure off.

    This season has been difficult since the first day in Japan and we've done a very good job of overcoming injuries and ineffectiveness to get to the playoffs. But it is too much to ask to go on the road and beat teams that have been killing us in their home parks all year. Would love to be proven wrong; don't expect to.

    Posted by Pumpsie Green September 18, 08 05:04 PM
  1. Oh MY!!! the sadness in Red Sox nation is overwhelming....Meter999...a high payroll doesn't equal more talent...it just equals more money. The Rays have the best farm team in the league and even with our stars out - Crawford and Longoria (Although he is thankfully back) and dare I say it B.J. "What me hustle" Upton, we bring up minor leaguers who still manage to put a whoopin' on your Red Sox....as for the comment that Rays fans suck....well at least we aren't a bunch of obnoxious loud-mouths that try to charge the field - yes, the police confirmed the bone head arrested last night was in fact a Sox fan from Sarasota. I will admit, I would like to see more true Rays fans at teh Trop, but, we've only been around 11 years and we have to win over a bunch of transplants from other States - apparently when they leave for sunny Florida they have to have some fond memory from the place they left.

    Now, on to the Trop - the wiffle ball rules you so affectionately refer to work both ways. I agree the rings suck, but hey, at least we have foul territory (unlike your beloved Fenway), and don't have some manufactured obstruction in the outfield to protect our pitchers from homeruns (a/k/a the Green Monster).

    In closing, let me just say, I look forward to watching the Rays sweep you in whatever October series we need too...of course, you have to get by the Angels first and well, I just have this feeling that ain't gonna happen.

    So, anyway, when Big Fatty and Uke (who I swear is a deadringer for teh head convict in Con-Air and looks like a retarded ballerina in the battersbox) and the rest of the hooligans on the Red Sox head south for the winter they will be welcomed to the Trop and swept away like debris from Ike.

    And of course, all us kind Suthern folk will simply smile and wave and say, "y'all come back now, ya hear".

    Posted by Raysheat September 18, 08 05:10 PM
  1. sday is right. Bay's absence was easily the difference in the second game of the series at Tampa; that and Tito's delusion that Kotsay is still adequate to hit below 8th in an AL lineup. Papelbon didn't have it in the second game of the series at Boston.

    These are the differences between two series wins and two series losses, and that's it. Bay's wife won't be having another child in the next month, Kotsay (hopefully) won't be starting at any point in the playoffs, Papelbon will no longer have the pitch count chains on and will thus have a splitter again. Our best team is forming. Get psyched.

    Posted by Hit Dog September 18, 08 05:42 PM
  1. For all you guys blasting eric for being negative....are you watching the same team I am? This red sox team is NOT playing well. The bullpen is terrible, and half the starting rotation is dicey at best, and besides last night Papi has left a ton of men on base in situations where we could have used a hit. The sad fact of the matter is if we continue to play the way we are playing we will not make it out of the first round,

    Posted by tm311 September 18, 08 05:47 PM
  1. I like how kevin said rays fan suck. When its a sox fan being taken to jail because he dosnt know how to act at a ball field. GO RAYS

    Posted by Rays Fan September 18, 08 06:03 PM
  1. Raysheat, you sound just like the A's fans I used to run into around here when they used to get to the playoffs, beat the Sox a couple of times, and then fold like a towel in the clutch. Be careful what you ask for, good ol' boy; the Rays are for real, we know that, but if you really want to see your team in the WS this year, you'd also better hope you don't see the (Red) Sox in the Trop come playoffs.

    Posted by therealfoy September 18, 08 07:39 PM
  1. So we are just assuming that it's not possible for the Yankees to sweep the dreadful Orioles at home this weekend, while the Sox lose three at Toronto, where they always struggle. And we're assuming that it's not posible that the Sox will split the four games with Cleveland while the Yanks sniff the leaves and take the Jays, meaning the Yanks come to Fenway for the last weekend in position to pull a reverse-'04 on the Sox and steal the wild card. We're all just assuming this, right? Just wondering.

    Posted by Left in '76 September 18, 08 08:38 PM
  1. What's the deal? Is everyone just afraid of the Angels? I say bring on any comers. This is when Becket reaches a litter deeper and Lester will tap his endless source of innings. Daisuke is 17-2!! He has also been saving some in the tank. If flying hurts Papi's wrist then send out to Cali early. Let him some rice and beans with Manny before The Tourney. I didn't like the last time the Sox played the White Sox in the playoffs anyway.

    Posted by atrain September 18, 08 09:52 PM
  1. Rays/Angels in the ALCS. This clearly is not the Red Sox year. 2009 is shaping up as an amazing four team race in the AL East with the Jays being better, the Yankees motivated plus buying CC Sabathia while both the Red Sox and Rays will start the year healthy. Should be the best race in a decade. All four will win 85+ games.

    Red Sox

    Posted by scooby September 18, 08 09:57 PM
  1. what is everyone's problem with Andy Sonnanstine?? I am a Sox fan that happens to play fantasy baseball - now there's a stretch - and I happened to pick him up when his record was around 6-2. his season makes no claim to a Cy Young award, but he has put up a very solid season this year. he is 13-7 at this point, I'd say that's pretty respectable for a non-ace.

    I am a Sox fan, but I am first and foremost a baseball fan.....if the Rays make it farther than the Sox do, I am totally OK with rooting for them this postseason. They have built a great team in their short time in the league, and as long as they can keep their talent, I expect them to be a thorn in our sides for a long time to come.

    Posted by K September 18, 08 11:12 PM
  1. Tonight's attendance at the Trop, 17, 296.
    Isn't it about time they move this team to a real city? They'd draw better in Montreal.

    Posted by Randy September 18, 08 11:54 PM
  1. Raysheat...you are a bit cocky for a team that hasn't won a game in october before...no?

    Please, keep gloating and stooping to the level that you seem to be griping about with regards to your pink hat problem down there. We know there's plenty of bandwagon fans all over, don't worry, they'll switch over to your lame franchise soon enough.

    But do, please keep gloating. The Indians fans pointedly(literally) did it to me before and (boldly) after game 5 of the 2007 Alcs, and the Jacobs Fied team store made sure to mint their WS shirts before game 5. That seemed to work out well for that overly confident fanbase, and it looks like you would love to take the same route.


    P.S. Your "Sunshine" state isn't nearly as great as you folk make it out to be. But hey, you have nonstop 80 degree weather and 110% humidity to compliment the zombie retirement folk...so that must make it a great place to live right?

    Posted by Mike September 19, 08 02:16 AM
  1. the real drama here is...playoff roster at SS...Lugo? or Lowrie? i say Lowrie in a no-brainer. which begs the next question....who can we dump him off onto(and likely still pay his contract) in the offseason.

    Posted by That Guy in VA September 19, 08 04:45 AM
  1. Pitchingwise, we're much better off with a 5-game series vs. Angels than a 7-game series vs. Angels...our 3 top pitchers superior to theirs...it's not until we reach 4 and 5 that difficulty starts...

    Beantown Babs

    Posted by Barbara McGurn September 19, 08 10:58 AM
  1. I say forget 1st place and go for the wild card! Watch the Rays falter in the 1st round while we get to feast on the Angels again with Beckett pitching the first game of a 5 game series. The Red Sox love playing the Angels in the playoffs (1986, 2004, 2007). 2008 will be no different.

    Posted by Bruce September 19, 08 11:38 AM
  1. hey raysfan why dont you let your team go win a world series first and then start talking trash and making all sorts of bold predictions? Its a different season in the post season, but you wouldnt know that cause your team hasnt been there before. So until then keep your mouth shut.

    Posted by Dean September 19, 08 11:45 AM
  1. It's true. You and Shaugnessy are a couple of weasels. It's painfully obvious that you two have never been part of any type of competitive team. I used to work in the media and it's usually the case with you so-called sports writers. You guys know a ton about sports but you don't know what it's like to actually compete. Therefor you don't actually don't know what it's like for an athlete to give their heart and soul to try to accomplish something that might look impossible to a so-called sportswriter. The Sox are not out of it. It's sexier for you to act like you know something that no one else does but the bottom line is, it's just your opinion. I know that's what you get paid to do, but you're a writer for the Nation, not the Empire. Why don't you start acting like it!

    Posted by Matt Shorette September 19, 08 12:32 PM
add your comment
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

by eric wilbur


browse this blog

by category