Plenty still on the line for Sox in final week

Plenty still on the line for Sox in final week
September 24, 2013, 11:30 pm
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DENVER -- When the Red Sox clinched the American League East title last Friday at Fenway, touching off a long, liquid celebration, it appeared as though their work was done for the remainder of the regular season.
     
All that was left was to play out the string, rest the regulars and see who their Division Series opponent was going to be.
     
Not hardly.
     
There's plenty at stake. The Red Sox very much want to finish with the best overall record in the American League, assuring themselves of home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
     
(The American League champion will have home field in the World Series, by virtue of the A.L.'s win over the N.L. in the All-Star Game).
     
In addition to the comfort of home and less travel, nailing down the best record has other competitive edges.
     
By doing so, the best-record winner would host the wild card team rather than a better quality opponent that has won a division, such as Oakland or Detroit.
     
In direct contrast to taking on another division winner with time to rest and set the rotation as it pleases, the Wild Card winner will, by definition, have to use one of its best starters just to advance past the Wild Card round, and that starter won't be available again until Game 3 of the Division Series.
     
Following their loss to the Colorado Rockies Tuesday night, and the Oakland A's loss to the Los Angeles Angels, the Red Sox held a full-game lead over the A's for best record in the A.L.
     
The Red Sox head into Wednesday with a magic number of two to clinch home field in the Division Series. Any combination of two Red Sox wins or Detroit Tigers losses means the Sox will host Game 1 of the Division Series Friday Oct. 4.
     
But the Sox won't be satisfied there. They want best record, so that, if they advance past the first round, they'll have home field for the American League Championship Series, regardless of opponent.
     
"The way we play at home and the way our guys embrace our environment," said John Farrell, "(home field advantage) would be a very good thing."
     
"We're going to keep grinding it out the rest of the season," vowed Jon Lester. "Hopefully we can get that best record."
     
It's quite possible that the edge could come down to a tie-breaker, or more to the point, a series of them.
     
The first tie-breaker is head-to-head competition, which in the case of the A's and Red Sox, would be no tie-breaker at all, since the teams evenly split the six between them this season, 3-3.
     
The next tie breaker is record within a team's own division. In this case, that would pit the Red Sox 43-30 record (.589 winning percentage) against the A's 42-30 (.583 winning percentage).
     
If the two teams have the same intra-division winning percentage, the third tie-breaker would be each team's post All-Star break record against American League teams only.
     
This hurts the Sox potentially, since the Sox are 6-4 in N.L. games since the break.
     
There would seem to be some inequity in the system, since the Sox have played fewer games in the A.L. and six of their wins would be tossed out in the computation.
    
"But we're also in a position where we control our own destiny," added Farrell. "The rules are the rules. The schedule's not going to be fair to everybody. Everybody plays 162, but the fact is, we've played more games than anyone before the All-Star break, so you can say that might be a benefit to us because we get off-days late in the season. Hopefully, it doesn't come into play."
     
The fact that the Sox have incentive to play hard over the final week of the season could help keep them focused, given the fact that the team faces a four-day layoff next week in between its final game Sunday and the start of the Division Series.
     
"I think it helps without a doubt," said Farrell. "Before we started September, one of the things we looked at was the difficulty to our schedule and I felt like that was a bonus. We know we were going to be challenges by coming out here to Colorado. The teams we're playing, where we were in relation to everybody else in the division. And it's kept us accountable to our daily work and preparation because of the opponents we're playing."
     
Indeed, even with Tuesday night's loss, the Sox are 14-8 this month, having won five of their six full series in September.