We need to make a decision, as a fan base, and we need to make it today. Do we, as Red Sox fans, want the Baltimore Orioles or the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoffs? Now, now. I know what many of you might be thinking. "Let both in! The Yankees should sit at home!" Well, the Yankees lead the AL East, and there are six games left. They could absolutely be knocked out of the playoffs, but for now, let's roll with the situation that's more likely given this limited time frame: at least one of the Orioles or Rays are unlikely to make it to October. Well, past the regularly scheduled portion of it, anyway.
Part of this is because the Rays and Orioles have to face each other to end the regular season in a three-game series. The Rays are currently three games back of the Orioles, and two back of the A's. The division is where they are furthest out, sitting four back of the Yankees with an elimination number of three. Baseball Prospectus lists them as having a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs, but every percentage point of that is wrapped up in the wild card. It's not going to be impossible for them to win the division at this point, but it is improbable. Of course, so was last September's race.
That brings us to Boston's role in the proceedings. The Red Sox just lost two out of two to the Rays, and now face the Orioles in a three-game set. Draft position questions aside, do we, as a fan base, want the Sox to keep on losing right now, so that the Rays see their playoff hopes dwindle further? Or, are we more concerned with revenge for last year's game 162? (And, to be fair, all of the other games the Orioles beat the Sox in, leading up to 162.) Before you answer, here's a reminder that game 162 occurred on this date one year ago.
Personally? I'm hoping the Angels, not the Rays, pull through for the second wild card,. But I'm not rooting for the Rays to lose the rest of their games. No, no, anything but that: the hope is that Tampa Bay pushes the Orioles out of the playoff picture in their own game 162, forcing the O's to deal with the fallout of a season in which they spent nearly the entire year either in first place or in control of a wild card. Sure, New York wins in this scenario, but on the list of recent offenders to my Red Sox sensibilities, the Yankees don't even register, and my desire for revenge is sated not once, but twice.
I'm bitter, so what? It's been a long 12 months.
Game 3: TBD vs. Zach Stewart (33 IP, 4.5 K/BB, 56 ERA+)
Tillman continues to impress in what might finally be the year that lets him stick in the majors. He'll face Aaron Cook, who is attempting to become the answer to a trivia question in what might be his final start of 2012. No strikeouts, Aaron. Crash Davis is watching you.
Steve Johnson? Seriously? Dan Duquette isn't even trying to hide the fact he has a generic pitcher cloning machine anymore. No wonder the Orioles have used so many players in 2012. You have to do better than Steve Johnson next time, Duke.
Really, though, Steve Johnson is a pretty big unknown. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 2005 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and ended up in Baltimore in 2009, before the O's lost him to the Giants in the Rule 5 draft. Johnson was returned to them, though, and after 828 innings and eight years in the minors, debuted in 2012 as a 24-year-old hurler. He never ranked higher than #15 on his respective team's prospect list, and was last spotted at #20 back in 2009. That's just been the kind of guy Baltimore has had success with this year.At this point, I'm convinced if any Red Sox put on a Baltimore uniform before tonight's game just to see if its magical properties could be absorbed through contact, that the player in question would have the night of their life.
In the last contest of the year between these two, the Orioles don't know who they are starting yet. The Red Sox are putting Zach Stewart out there again, in the hopes he can finish the year with a better taste in his mouth than the one the Angels left in there back in August when they scored nine runs in three frames.