The Red Sox are in the enviable position of having the next few days off. For 20 other teams, there’s a lot more than three days of downtime facing them. For the Giants, Mets, Orioles, and Jays, however, there’s only one or two days to rest, and then they have to play one game with their entire season on the line. Such is the cruelty of baseball’s new (well, less new these days, I suppose) playoff format that 162 games of work can be undone in one night.
The Red Sox don’t have to worry about that, though. They only have to worry about who comes out of that, becoming potential competition, particularly in the ALCS. Which leads us to the question: who should they want to see sent home tomorrow night?
The snap answer for most, I think, would be the Blue Jays. It’s simply math, really. The Red Sox beat the Orioles in the season series 11-8, sweeping them in their final showdown, while the Jays managed to edge them out 9-10. Even looking at run differential, the Sox’ 102-82 advantage over Baltimore tops their 97-85 advantage over Toronto.
There are a couple deeper layers to look at, though. The first is to give more than the cursory glance at the matchup than just head-to-head records provide and...well, the result is kind of the same. If, indeed, the Red Sox get to the ALCS and end up facing the winner of the Wild Card game, it’s hard not to see the Jays as the stiffer competition.
For one, they’ve just been better on the scoreboard. Both teams finished the season with a record of 89-73, but Toronto’s +93 run differential dwarfs Baltimore’s +29. Some of this incongruity is likely the result of the Jays having one of baseball’s sketchier bullpens while the Orioles have the best in the American League, but even a great bullpen doesn’t explain away 71 runs worth of difference.
For another, the Red Sox just have a better matchup against the Orioles. The Orioles and Jays are about in line with one another on offense, but it’s because the league generally has an uneven distribution of left-handed and right-handed pitchers. The Orioles are better than the Jays against righties by a bit...and utter disasters against lefties. Against most teams, that balances out.
The Red Sox, though, are not most teams. Even with Drew Pomeranz out of the rotation, they’ll send two lefties in David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound against their opponents if they manage to escape the ALDS. That’s two games where they could see a playoff opponent transform into the Phillies offensively.
And all this is to ignore the simple fact that the Jays have one of baseball’s best rotations while the Orioles are relying on a resurgent Ubaldo Jimenez as their third starter.
There’s one slightly deeper layer to hit here if, perhaps, you fear the Rangers, and are hoping for someone to knock them off. But I would suggest you shouldn’t. That whole run differential thing goes triple for Texas. They’ve outscored opponents by all of eight runs. And they don’t really have the whole bullpen explanation going for them. Their lineup comes in slightly below league-average, and while their rotation is solid, that hasn’t been enough to actually make them look like world-beaters behind their sterling record. In Baseball Prospectus’ adjusted standings, which look not only at how well a team played in terms of runs scored and allowed, but also the quality of their opponents, the Rangers actually grade out as baseball’s biggest overperformers, suggesting they maybe shouldn’t have even been expected to break .500. The playoffs’ small-sample nature makes them less likely to expose that than the regular season ever was, but ultimately the Rangers just don’t seem like the team to fear in October.
This all, of course, is getting ahead of ourselves to no small extent. Five games against the Indians lie between the Red Sox and any situation in which the outcome of the Wild Card game matters. And if Cleveland’s rotation is not what it should be, there are neither gimmes nor pushovers in October. But the ALDS isn’t until the end of the week, and the wild card game is tomorrow. Hard to simply ignore baseball’s highest-stake games of the year.
Oh, and go Mets, I guess. Not that they have any chance. It’s an even year. The Giants are winning it all.