Red Sox fans have, understandably, been laser-focused on the race for the American League East. After spending most of the season trailing either the Orioles, the Jays, or both, the Sox have finally pulled into the lead and held it for an extended period of time. Their three-game lead matches their season-high, and unlike back in May, with only 13 games left to play, that lead is awfully significant right now, if certainly not unassailable. Hell, even six games over the Tigers for a wild card spot could still vanish if the Sox started channeling their 2011 counterparts right away.
Do not start channeling your 2011 counterparts. I cannot stress this enough.
Anyways, if the primary goals for the Red Sox are to make the postseason and avoid the danger of the wild card game, that's not all they're playing for in these last two weeks. Because while the Sox are in good shape to hit the divisional series, they're currently behind in two other races: home field advantage in the divisional series, and the first overall seed in the American League.
The more likely race to be won is certainly home field advantage. As it stands, there's just one game separating the Red Sox and Indians for the right to play that extra game in Fenway Park or Progressive Field respectively. This is one of those advantages which seems like it shouldn't matter all that much--and indeed, if the Red Sox have been better at home (.590 winning percentage), they're no slouches on the road (.549) either. But a series is played between two teams, and the Indians are currently a perfectly mediocre 37-37 on the road, so getting that extra game in Fenway Park could prove significant.
While the Rangers are further out, if you think Boston could drop their lead in the East, well, the Rangers aren't even as far ahead of Boston as Boston is of Baltimore. Here, though, things become a bit more interesting, as the question has to be asked: do the Red Sox even want the top seed?
If, indeed, the Sox were to overtake the Rangers, they would face the winner of the wild card game even in the (extremely likely) situation where that ends up being one of their division rivals. And right now it's not clear that they should have any interest in trading the Indians for one of those teams. While the Indians have the better record, the Red Sox, Jays, and Orioles have earned theirs while playing in baseball's most difficult division. Adjusted standings, such as those on Baseball Prospectus, suggest that the Jays, for instance are actually the American League's second best team after the Red Sox (the Rangers, for their part, are under .500 thanks to the fact that they've outscored their opponents by all of eight total runs this season).
The Indians, it's worth noting, are basically neck-and-neck with the Jays by those measurements. But the Indians of September (and October) are not the Indians of April-through-August. Down both Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland's rotation is in rough shape after Corey Kluber, And while the sample size is small, the Sox do have a 4-2 record against the Indians this season, while thus far playing the Jays evenly and the Orioles to a near-draw at 8-7.
If Cleveland were hale and healthy, the Sox might prefer to play the Orioles in a hypothetical ALDS matchup given that the O's have struggled badly against lefties this year and the Sox can send Price, Pomeranz, and Rodriguez at them alongside Porcello. But with the Indians facing the possibility of Mike Clevinger startin a playoff game, it feels like they'd just as soon let Texas stay up top to take on whoever comes out of the Wild Card game.
With so many big intra-division games left to go this season, the Sox can't really be thinking about much beyond avoiding that play-in wild card round. For the rest of us, though, whose concentration doesn't really change the outcome on the field, there's more to watch than just the East as the season comes to a close.