Nation STATion: First place? Wild Card? No matter!

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Nation STATion: First place? Wild Card? No matter!

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Feeling a little blue today because of the Sox loss last night? I dont blame you, it was ugly. But if you are bothered by anything other than the fact that Tim Wakefield may have to start seven times against Baltimore in the final ten games of the season in order to get win No. 200, dont waste your energy. Because if you are worried about whether the Sox finish first or second in the AL East, stop . . . it just doesnt matter.

And really, as much as some people are going to tell you that it does, it doesnt. The Sox are heading to the postseason whether they finish in first place in the AL East, or they are the AL Wild Card team.

I really dont need to hear the argument about losing home field advantage in the three (if a team is lucky) postseason series. If the batters can overcompensate for the Sox mediocre pitching, the Sox can win it all from the Wild Card slot, just like they did in 2004. And if the Sox finish first, like they did in 2007 when they won it all, and they dont score at least five runs a game, their pitching is simply not good enough to take them very far this postseason anyway.

Throughout all of baseball there is an edge to playing at home, but not as much as you might imagine. According to statistics from the book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played And Games Are Won, by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, MLB teams win 54 percent of their home games, which is less than in the NHL, NFL, or NBA.

But, this season in particular, the Red Sox seem to be able to handle the road just fine. Lets take a look and see how the contenders are doing this season at home and on the road. When we look at the races, the Tigers seem to be secure in the AL Central, but the AL West is still in play as the Angels are within striking distance of the Rangers, trailing by just two in the loss column.
HOME RECORD
The Yankees have the best home record in the AL at 46-27, a .630 winning percentage.
Texas is next at 44-28: .611
The Red Sox and Tigers are third at 42-29: .591
The Angels are now 42-30: .583

ROAD RECORD
The Red Sox have the ALs best road record at 43-28: .606
The Yankees are next at 41-27: .603
Detroit is 39-33: .542
Texas is 37-35: .514
LAA is 36-35: .507

Two things immediately stand out when looking at these numbers. First, the Red Sox are playing better on the road this season than at home. The last time that happened was in 2002 when they went 42-39 at Fenway (.519) and 51-30 (.630) on the road.

The next thing to notice is how much better Texas is at home than on the road. Getting home field advantage is more important to the Rangers than to any of the other contenders. However, the only way the Rangers are assured of home field advantage in the ALDS is by securing the second best record among the AL division winners and that is in no way assured.

In fact, as of Thursday, Texas has a record of 81-63 (.563), which actually now puts them behind the Tigers, who are 81-62 (.566). Despite the Yankees losing yesterday, both the Tigers and the Rangers trail the Yankees, who are 87-54. Both teams are also far back of the 85-57 (.599) Red Sox. The Angels 78-65 (.545) are even further behind the Yankees and the Sox (again, relax they trail Boston by 7.5 games and even with a rotation that includes Weiland, Miller, and Lackey, the Sox can still hit).

All this means is that there is a strong likelihood that the team that finishes first in the AL East will have the best record and could have home field advantage until the World Series. For the team that finishes second in the AL East there is an overwhelmingly strong likelihood that that team will be the AL Wild Card and will not have home field advantage at any point in the postseason.

This means that in the American League Division Series (ALDS), the number one seed, the winner in the AL East, will host the number three seed, either the Tigers or the RangersAngels. The number two seed, either the Tigers or the RangersAngels, will host the AL Wild Card team, either Boston or New York.

So does it matter who will the Sox face in the ALDS?

Once again not a whole heck of a lot, at least based on how Sox have played against their potential opponents this season. With only three head-to-head games left against New York at the Stadium, September 23-25, here is the Sox record against the contenders:

W L W-L RS RA hmW-L rdW-L
Tigers 5 1 .833 29 13 2-0 3-1
Angels 6 2 .750 39 29 2-2 4-0
Yankees 11 4 .733 88 60 5-4 6-0
Rangers 4 6 .400 57 65 1-2 3-4

This shows that against the remaining contending teams, the Sox have a record of 26-13 (.667) which is really incredible when you think about it. Particularly when you put it into context. From 2006-10, the Red Sox played .473 ball against the Yankees. If they were just 8-7 this season against them, they wouldnt be working for a first-place finish, they would be battling the Rays and the Angels for the Wild Card slot.

But heres the caveat: Much of the Red Sox success came earlier in the season in general, and specifically against their potential adversaries. Before the All-Star break, the Sox were 55-35 (.611). Since the break, they are 30-22 (.577).

The Sox won their first five games against Detroit. The one game they lost against the Tigers was 3-0 on May 29, facing Justin Verlander. On May 19, Verlander went eight innings and gave up three runs but was not involved in the decision as the Sox won 4-3.

Against the Angels, the Sox won the first six and lost the last two. In April, Dice-K and Lackey started in winning back-to-back shutouts against LA of A. The last two losses in May were in games ironically also started by Dice-K and Lackey.

However, since the start of August, the Sox are 19-17 and that includes 3-3 against the Yankees and 4-3 against Texas. I like to look at the recent history of team to tell me how its doing. Thirty games is too long ago and there are too many injuries and other factors that may distort that figure. Ten games is often too short because it is too schedule dependent on the opponents. But 20 games is my porridge of choice and over that time frame the Sox are not faring well.

OVER THE LAST 20 GAMES
The Tigers are hottest team in the AL at 16-4.
The Yankees and Angels are next at 13-7.
The Red Sox are 11-9.
The Rangers are 9-11 (note that the Rangers just completed a stretch in which they had 15 straight home games in which the game time temperature was 100 degrees or higher, game 16 was a refreshing 98 degrees. We need to watch this burnt out team to see what they have left).

Here are a couple of other conflicting stats to put you more in the "just doesnt matter" mindset:

Red Sox hitting this season
Home: .295 with 80 homers, 40 stolen bases Best home batting average in the AL
Away: .266 with 98 homers, 55 stolen bases Most road homers in the AL

Red Sox pitching this season
Home: 4.37 ERA, 1.373 WHIP, .262 batting average against
Away: 3.57 ERA, 1.184 WHIP (best in the AL), .225 batting average against (best in the AL)

Given all that, Ill take the Wild Card. Ill take first place. Hey, repeat after me, it just doesnt matter.

Bonus: Check out Bill Murrays great motivational It just doesnt matter speech from Meatballs.

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