Clinching the American League East is not a concern for the Red Sox. It will happen.
The Orioles, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.
In beating Boston a third straight time Wednesday night, Baltimore not only denied the Red Sox a chance to finally clinch a playoff spot, but it gained ground in the race for an American League wild card berth, only a game behind the floundering Texas Rangers. As recently as Sept. 4, the Orioles were four games out with the Yankees and Indians ahead in the hunt. Two weeks later, only the Indians stand in their way, a half-game in front, with the Yankees falling faster than Miley Cyrus’ stock with Babybug Magazine.
The Orioles are 9-6 this season against the Red Sox, the only AL East team that Boston has a losing record against (the Sox are also 2-4 against Texas, 2-5 vs. the Royals, and 3-4 against Detroit). Staff ace Chris Tillman, who goes to the mound Thursday night at Fenway Park, has three of his 16 wins this season against Boston. Chris Davis has hit six of his 51 home runs against the Red Sox, Jim Johnson is a perfect seven-for-seven in save opportunities, and Manny Machado has a .971 OPS against Red Sox pitching.
Is there another team that the Red Sox would want to meet less than the Orioles come October?
Two years ago, the Orioles took pride in knocking the “Best Team Ever” out of the playoffs, thus sealing Terry Francona’s fate in Boston, and sparking a litany of beer and chicken jokes. But even after Wednesday’s 5-3, 12-inning win over the Red Sox, a game the Baltimore Sun has deemed “arguably the biggest victory of the season,” it’s abundantly clear that the 2013 Orioles aren’t looking to knock the Sox out of the postseason this time around. But if they make it, they’re a damned scary opponent, and one that could end the postseason abruptly.
But before we jump to conclusions, let’s face the facts that the Orioles would likely have to pitch Tillman in the one-game wild card playoff, if his turn comes up in the rotation, while Boston would have the luxury of resting Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy once they eventually clinch the East (it says here Friday night against the Blue Jays). The Orioles, meanwhile, will have to go head-to-head against the Rays in a huge four-game series beginning Friday night, before returning home to host Toronto and Boston to close out the season. By that point, the Red Sox will be playing the B squad in the hopes of giving the regulars some rest on the eve of October.
That series though presents what should be a fascinating set of circumstances for Boston manager John Farrell. Look, the 100-win plateau would have been neat, but the Sox would have to go 8-1 to reach that mark, and frankly, the only real benefit is that Fenway would probably have a new plaque boasting the achievement. But if the Red Sox theoretically lay down that final weekend in Baltimore, they could be hurting themselves in determining which team they’ll have to face in the ALDS. On the flip side, how sweet might it taste to knock the Orioles out after what transpired at Camden Yards in 2011?
Tampa Bay poses many of the same issues, with a nasty rotation and bullpen to boot, but the Sox have managed to keep the Rays at bay for much of the season, prior to their September swoon (hard to believe the Rays were only a game out of first as recently as Aug. 18). But the Sox are only 11-22 against Baltimore over the last two seasons, a stat that … well, isn’t fair considering the moron that preceded Farrell.
It’s easy to blame Texas for this development. The Rangers have taken their playoff spot and essentially hung it out on the clothesline to see if anyone wants to bite at it. On Sept. 1, the Rangers were a game ahead of the A’s in the AL West. Today, they are 6 ½ games behind Oakland, and only a half-game up in the wild card race on Cleveland, whose manager knows a thing or two about such situations. Baltimore still only has about a 13.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Cool Standings, which has the Rangers at 55.8 percent. Cool Standings also had the Red Sox at 90.3 percent to make the playoffs two seasons ago. Oops.
Give me Texas. Give me Tampa Bay. Give me the Indians for all the drama and front office mudslinging that would unfold in that reunion.
But the Red Sox should want no part of the Orioles in the postseason.