After the confusion of the last week's of playoff jockeying in the American League, the picture is a little clearer now: The Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians will play Wednesday night in Cleveland, with the winning team coming to Boston for Game 1 of the Division Series. No more tiebreakers, no more three-way scenarios. Win Wednesday and you get a date with the Red Sox, best-of-five.
Let's take a look at the two teams and which would be a more favorable matchup for the Sox.
2013 History with the Red Sox
TAMPA BAY: Red Sox won season series, 12-7
As an AL East opponent, the Rays played six series (seven, technically, since MLB regarded a one-game makeup game in August as a separate series) against the Sox. The Red Sox swept an April series at Fenway from the the Rays, allowing just three runs in three games. In mid-May, the Red Sox visited Tropicana Field for the first time in 2013 and took two-of-three, with the third game won on a bases-loaded ninth-inning double by Will Middlebrooks.
A return trip to the Trop in mid-June resulted in one of the most exciting games of the year, with the Sox winnning 10-8 in 14 innings. After the Sox had gone ahead in the top of the 10th, Andrew Bailey blew a save in the bottom of the inning. The Sox got two shutout innings each from Koji Uehara and Franklin Morales and finally won it in the 14th. They split the final two of the series, giving them a 2-1 edge.
A week later, the Rays returned to Boston and the Sox won the first two in a double-header sweep with well-pitched efforts from Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront. In late July, the Rays starting pitching dominated and gave them their first series victory of the season against Boston, with Tampa taking two-of-three. Matt Moore shut them out in the opener with a two-hit shutout and David Price won the finale with a complete-game five-hitter. The finale of the four-game set was rained out and made up a week later and Price shut them down for the second time in the span of five days. In the final series of the season, with the Rays reeling after a disastrous West Coast road trip, the Sox took two-of-three at the Trop.
CLEVELAND: Red Sox won season series, 6-1
In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Red Sox went into Cleveland and swept the Tribe in a three-game series by a combined scored of 19-8. On Memorial Day weekend, the Indians came to Boston for a four-game set and lost three-of-four. The Indians won the first game, then lost the next three, including the final game of the series when the Sox rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the ninth to score four and win a walk-off 6-5 victory. For the season series, the Red Sox outscored the Indians 43-30.
TAMPA BAY: Should they advance, the Rays will use a rotation of Price, Moore, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. Price, who was brilliant in the Monday night tie-breaker, would be available for Game 2, with, presumably, Moore, pitching in the opener. Cobb would then pitch Game 3 and Archer Game 4 with Moore ready to go again if Game 5 were necessary.
CLEVELAND: The Indians have rookie Danny Salazar going in the wild-card game, taking him out of the rotation until Game 3. That would free up Ubaldo Jimenez for Game 1 and make Scott Kazmir available for Game 2. The fourth starter would likely be Salazar. Jimenez had a 2.15 ERA in the second half, giving the Tribe a bonafide No. 1.
EDGE: Tampa Bay. As good as Jimenez has been, the Rays are better and deeper, with Price and Moore pitching as well against the Sox as any pair of starters in the league.
TAMPA BAY: The Rays showed improvement offensively, thanks to contributions from rookie Wil Myers and Boston discard James Loney, who had a strong year offensively and finished with the best road batting average in the American League. Evan Longoria is the player opponents worry about most, especially this time of year. Joe Maddon mixes and matches a lot with his lineup and seldom has the same lineup two days in a row. Players such as Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez play multiple positions.
CLEVELAND: The Indians don't have a fearsome offense, and don't have that big bat akin to Longoria that can change a game. Michael Bourn has speed, but doesn't get on base enough to be an effective leadoff man. Nick Swisher has some power, but his modest 22 homers led the team in that category. Jason Kipnis is probably the team's best two-way player and statistically, profiles as a Dustin Pedroia-type (.284-17-84).
EDGE: Neither team is an offensive juggernaut, but the Rays rate a slight edge because of Myers and Longoria.
TAMPA BAY: The Rays have a strong double-play combination with Yunel Escobar and (mostly) Zobrist. Desmond Jennings has athleticism in center, but in the final month or so of the season, had a tendency to misplay balls hit over his head -- he did so two or three times in a series with the Red Sox. Behind the plate, Jose Molina may run like a block of granite, but he's expert at framing and stealing strikes for his pitchers. James Loney is a plus defender at first.
CLEVELAND: The Indians made almost 40 more errors than the Rays over the course of the regular season. Asdrubal Cabrera is a standout at short and Kipnis has shown improvement at second. At first, Swisher is a DH masquerading as a fielder. Bourn can track down balls with his speed. Catcher Yan Gomes threw out 39 percent of would-be base-stealers.
EDGE: Tampa Bay.
TAMPA BAY: Unlike a year ago, when closer Fernando Rodney was the closest thing to a lockdown closer, the Rays have had some ninth-inning issues this year; Rodney had eight blown saves, though the majority of those came in the first half of the season. Set-up man Joel Peralta led the league in appearances and is a strong eighth-inning option. Lefty Jake McGee pitched in 71 games and struggled in the final weeks, perhaps a result of the workload.
CLEVELAND: It's never a good thing when a team has to change closers in the final week of a season, but that's what the Indians had to do when Chris Perez imploded one too many times. Justin Masterson, who missed time down the stretch with an oblique strain, is the new ninth-inning man. Sidearmer Joe Smith is good at getting ground ball outs while Cody Allen generated more than a strikeout per inning.
EDGE: Tampa Bay. Even with questions about Rodney, the Rays have more experience in their pen and at this time of year, that counts for something.
TAMPA BAY: Maddon is a master motivator and strategist, who gets the most out of his roster and limited payroll. He's not above doing something unorthodox and sometimes the moves appear to be about doing something different for the sake of doing something different, but it's hard to argue with the results.
CLEVELAND: Francona has worked wonders in his first year in Cleveland, directing the Indians to a 92-win season and finishing just two games in back of a much, much more talented Detroit team. The Indians, with little margin for error, won their final 10 to get into the playoffs and are riding a huge wave of momentum. And, if you'll recall, Francona is no stranger to pressure and big games in October.
SUMMARY: The Rays were better during the season, though they won one fewer game, since they played in a far tougher division. On paper, they have a better rotation a better bullpen and better defense. But it's hard to ignore the roll that the Indians are on and what Francona has meant for them in the dugout. The Indians look like the easier opponent, but given the intangibles at work, be careful what you wish for, Red Sox fans.