Pick your poison: Boston or Tampa?

Next CBA likely to add two wild card teams and one-game playoff
Two bleacher tickets available this afternoon

Here’s a question: if the Red Sox are performing poorly enough to miss the playoffs, should Yankee fans root for them to make it? Put another way, given that Boston has been 2007 Mets-level bad in September, are there enough flaws there that Yankees fans should root for Boston to beat out Tampa and Los Angeles and make for an easy target, should they squeak by through to the ALCS? Between the Rays and the Sox, who is the weakest link?

The Red Sox case

Boston has a myriad of problems. One problem is the lack of performance they’ve gotten from the corner outfielder slots. Carl Crawford’s first year of his big contract has been a disaster. J.D. Drew has missed time and his replacements haven’t exactly lit up the league. Drew may be back at some point, but it’s clear that the corner outfield spots for Boston currently represent a problem with no easy fix.

The Sox are also suffering through injuries, although not as many as last year. Youkilis has a back injury, a hip injury and a sports hernia. Despite the rain on Friday, Youkilis did some  batting off a tee, and Francona indicated that he “still felt it”, which makes sense since the injury will ultimately require surgery. As a result, Boston Globe writer Pete Abraham reported that it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll return at all this year, perhaps as a pinch-hitter at best. Obviously this is a significant blow to the Red Sox. Youkilis is one of their best hitters, and he’s also one of the most potent right-handed hitters in a lineup dominated by lefties. One of those lefties, Adrian Gonzalez, is also hurting. Gonzalez is dealing with a rotator cuff injury that causes him pain every time he swings the bat. It’s also sapped him of his opposite-field power. If you’re keeping track at home, two of the Sox four best hitters (the other two being Pedroia and Ellsbury) are dealing with serious injuries.

There’s also the wilderness that is their rotation. In addition to not paying his child support, Erik Bedard has – surprise! – injury and durability concerns. Meanwhile, John Lackey is just flat terrible. Weiland, Miller and Wakefield all represent last-resort options, the kind of guys you’d want to kick around for the 25th spot on the playoff roster but not pencil in for a Game 3 or Game 4 start. Aceves has been well above-average, but it appears to be too late to switch him to the rotation. Even the front of the rotation, Lester and Beckett, has lost a bit of its shine. For the second year in a row, Lester’s walks are a little higher than what you’d expect from someone with his talent, and his strikeouts have dipped. Beckett’s injury created a bit of uncertainty around him, and while he did rack up the strikeouts in his last outing against Baltimore, he lost his way late in the game and gave up the lead. New York has rotation questions too, but this doesn’t diminish the fact that Boston’s issues are severe and won’t be remedied until this offseason at the earliest.

The Sox are still a decent team. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez are exceptional hitters. Papelbon is having a great year, and if Bard regains his form they could have one of the best late game combos in the playoffs. The nature of the playoffs is wild and unpredictable, and a suddenly hot offense backed by a strong Lester and Beckett and closed with Bard and Papelbon could carry the Sox to the World Series. At the same time, it’d be silly to deny that this team has major issues.

The Rays’ Case

The case for the Rays as the weakest link revolves around their average offense and their iffy bullpen. Calling their offense average is entirely just. Their team wRC+ is 100, which defines average. Their lineup is bolstered by the likes of Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist, but there are still weak spots in that lineup. Parenthetically, one has to wonder how much closer the Rays would be to Boston had Manny Ramirez given them 500 at-bats this season.

Their bullpen is also a point of weakness, described to me by R.J. Anderson as Tampa’s “dirty little secret”. It’s simply not as good as it has been in the past. While Farnsworth had been solid for the Rays thus far, he’s dealing with elbow soreness. Set-up man Joel Peralta has been respectable, but behind him are a slew of guys best utilized in platoon matchup scenarios. Plenty of them have serious control issues, meaning that Maddon’s ability to mix and match in the late innings is compromised a bit.

The Rays are strong in their pitching staff. As frontline tandems go, it’s hard to do better than David Price and James Shields. These two would be absolutely frightening in a short series. The Yankees wouldn’t face them until the ALCS, so they’d get a crack at Niemann and Hellickson too, but the fact remains that Price and Shields are two of the best pitchers in baseball. Finally, there’s the Matt Moore factor. He’s likely headed to the bullpen, and a reprise of David Price’s usage in the 2008 playoffs would make the Rays’ end of game crew very tough, especially if they get Kyle Farnsworth back at full strength. He’s certainly the X factor.

So which team is a more formidable opponent, and for which team should the Yankee fans be rooting to make the playoffs? It’s a matter of preference. Personally, even granting all of Boston’s issues and the fact that they’re an average at best team right now, I’d like them out as soon as possible. Doesn’t the prospect of three games in Boston in October in the ALCS, with the pennant on the line, make you want to reach for a bottle of Pepto? The Rays may be just as good as Boston right now, even better. But as Moshe Mandel said to me the other day, they may be just close enough that it’d be nice to see the Sox complete this collapse and miss the playoffs altogether. No Big Papi heroics and Sweet Caroline for me, thank you very much.

Next CBA likely to add two wild card teams and one-game playoff
Two bleacher tickets available this afternoon
  • Jamey

    Even a struggling Red Sox team doesn’t make me as a Yankee fan want to see them in the playoffs. Their lineup just has a way of punishing the crap out of even out of the Yankees’ better pitchers, and as well I could see them stealing a win in a tight game between Sabathia and Beckett/Lester then pull off the ever-classic “Yankees make mediocre starter look like 1985 Dwight Gooden” a couple of times. Granted this can happen with any opponent, its just 10x as frustrating when its against an otherwise limping Red Sox club.

    I also should they make it, want no part of Boston getting pushed as “the underdog” which for that fan base (and their counterparts in the media) is like giving the keys to a pharmacy to a meth addict. They could finish 159-3 with a $700 million payroll & they’d still hail themselves as the small market, plucky underdogs, so if they were in a position where they (in their warped minds that is) could “legitimately” make that claim? No, just no.

  • MannyGeee

    Nah… As sweet as it would be to see mass genocide in Red Sox Nation after the great collapse of 2011, I am scared shit of the prospect of facing Price & Shields 5x in 7 games. Jus sayin

  • fwwank

    Silly question. Yankee fans can not root for the Red Sox.

    • KeithK

      Of course you can. I had a die hard, life long, Red Sox fan come up to me at work this week and tell me he was rooting for the Yanks this week (against the Rays). If it helps your team you can pull for a rival. It’s really just rooting for your team.

      Now whether the Sox winning helps the Yankees this time is a different story. I’m agnostic on that question, other than to say that I’m pulling for a three way tie (even if last night made that even less likely than it already was).

      • Dale Mohorcic

        That’s just an example of sux fan inferiority, not an example to follow.

  • mike

    Red Sox make Mo a mere mortal…that changes the whole equation for the opposition, where the other team manages for 24 outs, not 27.

    with Boston’s familairity and relative success against Mo, it erases the Yanks biggest advantage over other teams and forces the Yanks to consider a different game as well.

    give me any team rather than the Sox

  • J

    Best article to this point, Stephen. Exactly what’s on everyone’s mind, and summarized well. I’d also like to see the Rays, mainly because Boston’s offense has the capability of opening up some games on our somewhat shaky staff. I’ll take my chances with relatively closer games against Price and Shields with a shaky Tampa pen.

  • Bronx Byte

    The pitching of the Rays is good. Not so sure they can hit enough.

    Boston’s pitching is a train wreck and there’s soft spots in RF, SS, and in catching.
    As much as I dislike Boston, they don’t have enough to win the ALDS.
    An early exit if they make it at all.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Boston’s pitching is a train wreck largely because of scrubs like Wakefield, Lackey and Miller. Lester, Beckett and Bedard are all good, and those are the starters who will matter in the playoffs.

  • Gerry

    Small correction–Didn’t the Rays use Price out of the bullpen in the 2008 playoffs? Not 2009.

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

      Yes, you are right. Fixed it, thanks

  • JobaWockeeZ

    Both are scary but I’ll choose Tampa cause I hate the Red Sox.

  • Frank

    All 3 of these teams have major issues, so in my view there’s no clear cut favorite despite who the Yanks face. That said, I’d rather face the Rays- the RS are a totally different animal in Fenway Park.

  • mt

    Boston looks like it is going to win wild card anyway (actually Tampa has been below .500 in September against anybody not named the Red Sox). I fear Boston more.

    Beckett and Shields have both been extremely good against us but I fear Lester more than Price this year.

    Also I can see a Colon/Garcia/Nova holding Tampa to 2-3 runs over 6-7 innings; I do not see any of them, even Nova, able to do that against Red Sox. Even CC struggles to hold their offense down. Also we hit Lackey but do not pound him out of the game quickly like we should (even in the one game we beat him).

    Also I totally agree with the first comment: when Red Sox do make playoffs some “experts” who had picked them to win AL East will now turn on them and say there is no way they can win which will turn them into the “great underdogs” and “scrappy fighters” if they win their ALDS series. It will be sickening.

    Basically Red Sox can win a five or seven game series with Beckett/Lester and Bard (assuming he rebounds once he gets a little more rest after they clinch),Papelbon, and Aceves. We may also see Bucholz – will not see much Weiland, A Miller, and Wakefield.

    I still would see Yanks as favorites but our bullpen will have to be lights out (including some fifth inning appearances by Cory Wade/Hughes.)

  • TomH

    I’m a believer in the “sine curve” theory of baseball. Hot then cold then hot then cold, etc. The length between high’s and low’s depending on the quality of the team. Boston’s overdue for a “correction.” They have hit Yankee pitchers well all year and are probably going to do so again. Yeah, Price and Shields are scary guys, but the Yankee pitching staff is a major question mark, and they can probably do better against Tampa Bay than against Boston. I’ll take the chance that the deep Yankee hitting will eventually catch up with the Tampa pitchers. But all of this “analysis” (if that’s what I just offered) is irrelevant. I just fear Boston much more than Tampa.

  • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

    Whatever happens, I just really hope the Red Sox do not clinch the Wild Card with a win in the BX. That would really piss me the F off.

    • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

      I can’t see that happening. The Rays would have to get swept by the Blue Jays, and the Red Sox would have to have Wakefield and Lackey beat the Yankees.

  • Bucket Cock

    What about the Detroit Tigers? I feel like theyre a good baseball team,pretty much, and should not be overlooked.

  • Bronx Byte

    The Orioles can really put the screws to Boston in Baltimore next week.

  • TomH

    Yeah, in principle the O’s can do damage to Boston, but the probabilities are against it. The O’s may have shot their last bolt in Fenway (although I hope not).

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Excellent analysis. At this time it is improbable that the Rays will make it. If I had to choose I should choose them because this year the Sox have not only beaten us they have humiliated us. They have hit our pitchers and we have not theirs. All in all it seems that they play harder against us than we do against them. I should like to see some Paul ONeill emotion from the guys.

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    C’mon. It doesn’t matter how much they’re faltering, Boston is much more dangerous to the Yankees. Those who worry at the prospect of Price/Shields multiple times worry too much.

    The Rays cannot hit!!! Shields and Price constantly pitch in fear of giving up any runs because their team just doesn’t score for them. Look at Price last night and Shields the other day against the Yanks.

    Anyone who tries to say that Tampa is more dangerous is trying to hard to revel in Boston’s recent collapse. The question isn’t “How good does it make you feel to see the MSM world-beaters play like ass and prove all the pundits are dumbshits?”

    The question is “Boston or Tampa: Who would you rather face?”

    Unless you’re taking the position that you want to face the bigger challenge, you’re saying you’d rather play Tampa.

  • Sayid J.

    Also, it should be noted that despite Crawford’s lackluster season, he’s now put together a 40-50 game stretch of Crawfordian numbers. That’s why he’s back at the top of their order now, and I imagine he should not be discounted going forward.

  • dkidd

    i fear neither the rays of tampa bay nor the red sox of boston

    /old man of the sea’d

  • TomH

    Since Aug. 24, Crawford is .294/.326/.529, with 3 HR’s. He seems officially dangerous again.

  • Alfred

    I’d like to keep Boston out, solely because I’d like to see misery on them and their fans, but definitely not because I think they’ll be more difficult to beat than Tampa or LA in a postseason series, they’ve totally lost their way.

  • rossdfarian

    Let’s take this a tad deeper:
    If the Red Sox remain in the playoff mix, they will probably get beat up by Detroit or Texas. We don’t want that because that would embolden (Rove’d) the Tigers or Rangers.
    If the Rays make the playoffs, they’ll have to have strung some wins together. So, they’ll have a little momentum. This momentum could be used to weaken the Tigers/Rangers before facing the Yankees in the second round. And, if they make it out of the ALDS to face the Yankees, we’ll have considerable home field advantage.
    So, it looks as though we should hope the Rays make it to the playoffs not just because the Red Sox deserve to be associated with the word “collapse” for the next half decade but because we’d probably face a weakened opponent in the ALCS … one we can handle easily and move on to the World Series versus the Phillies or Brewers.