The season may be over for the Red Sox, but for 10 other teams it's just beginning, and for one of those 10, it will come to an abrupt end tonight. That's the nature of things now that there's one spot per league for two wild card teams to fight over. It's technically part of the playoffs, but the reality of the situation is that there's not one, but two Game 163s every single year.
It's understandable if Red Sox fans aren't terribly interested in watching other teams compete to see who will take their title as reigning World Series champions away from them, particularly given how miserable baseball has been for them over the past six months. But if you're interested in watching the best product baseball has to offer short of a Game 7, here's what you should keep in mind when choosing who to back.
The Kansas City Royals might seem like an easy franchise to support as a Red Sox fan. After all, if any team is the underdog in the American League, it's the Royals. They've been out of the postseason for nearly 30 years, their streak of futility the sort of thing Red Sox fans can sympathize with.
I'll tell you what Red Sox fans can't sympathize with, though: helping Tampa Bay.
As a small market team, the Rays' paths to victory are limited. They've found a way to make it work, however, focusing on player development and then flipping their stars just ahead of free agency to teams that are willing to pay a premium in prospects to push a good team over the top.
Two years ago, Dayton Moore decided that his 72-90 Royals team was just the sort of team that should be selling off top-ranked prospects in a desperate attempt to make something, anything of the next two years (and, in turn, to save his job).
That Wil Myers hasn't been very good this year, and that the Royals have managed to claw their way into a play-in game does not really forgive the initial offense. The Red Sox are going to be running into better Rays teams down the line because of Moore's gambit, and should not want to see him rewarded for a shortsighted deal that's going to be hurting both us and them down the line.
The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, are pretty much the perfect team for Red Sox fans to support because, well, we've spent plenty of time rooting for plenty of their players before. I expect you don't need to be told about Jon Lester (who will get the start tonight), but going down the list, the Athletics are chock-full of former Sox. Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, and Coco Crisp all wear the green and gold of Oakland.
...So does Nick Punto, but let's not talk about that.
Even putting aside the morality play that is Billy Beane vs. Dayton Moore, simply the players involved should recommend the Athletics over the Royals. They aren't the same underdogs they once were--this is now their third straight trip to the postseason--but they still haven't won a postseason series since 2006. It's questionable if they'll consider a Wild Card win to break that streak, but they certainly can't win a series without first winning this game.
Besides, if you've been keeping up with the Athletics at all, you'll know that Jon Lester has been in this situation before. He's seen a team fall from a seemingly unassailable perch with a terrible late-season performance. In 2011, with only one wild card, he and his team had no chance for redemption. Now, starting with him on the mound, the Athletics will get the chance that the 2011 Red Sox did not.
With a World Series win between him and the 2011 team, Lester probably doesn't really need that redemption. But wouldn't it be better to just spare him that misery entirely?
Whether it's for the men pulling the levers, the ones actually standing on the field, or just for Jon Lester, let's go Athletics!