First Pitch: Friday, September 23

143385.jpg

First Pitch: Friday, September 23

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome toFirst Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Thursday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN: With the Yankees having clinched and the Rangers about to, the Red Sox' best weapon in September -- opponents who'll beat your wild-card competitors for you -- is about to disappear.

Sean McAdam makes the excellent point that both the Yankees (who have three games left with the Rays) and Rangers (three left with the Angels) will probably spend the final week resting their regulars and getting their pitching set up for the playoffs. (csnne.com) So the Sox really can't count on any help from the outside; if they're going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to do it themselves.

The players think they can. (csnne.com)

Don't know that the rest of us share that optimis, though.

AND IF THEY DON'T . . . it's possible David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon have played their last games at Fenway Park as members of the Red Sox. (csnne.com)

THEY MAY NOT BE THE ONLY ONES: In something of a shock, Peter Gammons -- who should know -- says Terry Francona could managing for his job in this last week. (csnne.com)

NOT SO FAST: The Sox did get some help last night, from the Blue Jays. They knocked off the Angels, pushing LA of A three games back in the loss column in the wild-card race. (ESPN Los Angeles)

None in New York, though, as the Rays -- getting a frighteningly good start from Matt Moore (St. Petersburg Times) -- crushed the Yankees (Tampa Tribune) and remain two back in the loss column.

STAT OF THE DAY? TRY STAT OF ALL TIME: With all due respect to my friends Tony Massarotti and Damon Amendolara, here's a number that sums up the Red Sox' September predictament better than anything I've seen:

Since Sept. 1, the Sox are 1-16 when scoring 11 runs or less. (csnne.com)

BEHIND THE NUMBERS: And Peter Abraham examines the pitching that made such a mind-bending statistic possible. (Boston Globe)

HOLD ON, THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN THAT: John Tomase agrees the pitching's been atrocious, but says other areas of the team have collapsed, as well. (Boston Herald)

THINGS ARE SO BAD . . . that we're even turning on Sweet Caroline. (csnne.com)

EVEN SO . . . Baseball Prospectus says the Sox have a 91.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. (csnne.com)

SAVE US! But Dan Shaughnessy is urging Bud Selig to ban the Red Sox from the postseason. (Boston Globe)

THE BEST DEALS ARE THE ONES YOU DON'T MAKE: The Red Sox tried to get Chris Capuano from the Mets to bolster their shattered starting staff (csnne.com), but couldn't come to an agreement with New York. If how he pitched Thursday is any indication, be thankful. (New York Post)

Of course, that's what we say now. Let's see how we feel when Andrew Miller or Kyle Weiland or (gasp) John Lackey goes up against the Yankees on Sunday.

AT LEAST THERE'S THAT: No matter what happens the rest of the way, you'll be happy to know Tom Werner says things are going well in Liverpool. (epltalk.com)

SO THAT'S HOW IT FEELS: Johnny Damon says the Rays watched the Red Sox' "angst" when they won three out of four up in Boston last weekend, then experienced it themselves when they came to New York and lost three out of four. (New York Post)

WE'RE NOT CRAZY ABOUT YOU EITHER, PAL: Out of nowhere, Russell Martin -- who, as Matthew Pouliot points out, would be in Boston if Theo Epstein had offered him an extra million last winter -- declares that he "hates the Red Sox" and "anything to get the Red Sox of the playoffs would be awesome with me." (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

VOTE FOR ME!! You don't hear his name mentioned in the discussions -- nor should you -- but Robinson Cano is pushing himself for American League MVP. (ESPN New York)

ISSUES OF THEIR OWN: George King lists 10 things concerning the Yankees heading into the postseason. (New York Post)

AND FINALLY . . . 'Moneyball' hits the theatres today, and gets a thumb's up from both Joe Posnanski (si.com) and Roger Ebert. (rogerebert.com)

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

BOSTON - The Red Sox knew they'd be in the playoffs last weekend when they clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 2013.

On Wednesday, they became division champs and knew they'd avoided the dreaded wild-card game.

ANALYSIS: Nick Friar looks at potential Red Sox-Indians matchup

They still don't know their first-round opponent, though it's becoming increasingly likely that it will be the Cleveland Indians.

Here's why: the Red Sox' loss to the Yankees on Thursday night leaves them with a 92-67 record with three games remaining, the second-best mark -- for now -- among the three A.L. division winners.

The Texas Rangers, at 94-65, retain the best record, with the Indians, at 91-67, a half-game behind the Sox.

The team with the best record of the three will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and will be matched against the winner of Tuesday's A.L. wild-card matchup.

To finish with the A.L.'s best record and host the wild-card winner, the Red Sox essentially need to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays on the final weekend and hope that the Rangers get swept by Tampa Bay.

That's because a tie between the Red Sox and Rangers in the standings would make the Rangers the top seed by virtue of the second tie-breaker: intra-division play.

(The first tie-breaker is head-to-head play; the Sox and Rangers split the season series, sending them to the second tie-breaker).

In other words, the Rangers have a magic number of one to clinch the best record in the A.L. and gain home-field advantage throughout the postseason. One more Red Sox loss or one more Rangers win would get the Rangers locked into the top spot.

Again, barring a sweep by the Sox and the Rangers getting swept, a matchup in the Division Series with Cleveland seems almost inevitable.

What's not known is where that series will begin, and here's where it gets tricky.

Because the Indians and Detroit Tigers were rained out Thursday, the Tribe will have played only 161 games by the time the regular season ends early Sunday evening.

That could force the Indians and Tigers to play a makeup game on Monday, since the game could have playoff seeding implications for the Indians and Tigers. Detroit is still in the running for the A.L. wild card spot, currently a game-and-a-half behind the Orioles and Jays.

Since the Red Sox won the season series against the Indians 4-2, the Sox can clinch home field by winning two-of-three games from Toronto this weekend.

Should the Sox win two from the Jays, it would wipe out the need for Monday's makeup -- at least as far as the Indians are concerned. It's possible that it would still need to be played to determine the one of the wild card spots.

No matter who wins home field in a likely Red Sox-Indians matchup, the Division Series between the two will start with games next Thursday and Friday. After a travel day, the series would resume Sunday and Monday, Oct. 9-10.

Should the Sox win home field and host the first two games, Game 3 would be played Sunday Oct. 9 in Cleveland -- on the same day and in the same city where Tom Brady will make his return to the Patriots.