Who Needs the Yankees? Red Sox Postseason Could Still Bring High Drama
Tito vs. Farrell.
Drew vs. Iglesias.
Big Papi against Crawford and A-Gon.
There may never be a playoff series at Fenway Park quite like the epic 2003 and '04 Red Sox-Yankees ALCS classics—ending 86 years of misery against your arch-rivals is tough to top—but this year's possible postseason opponents present plenty of intriguing scenarios for the Sox.
As the wild-card entries do battle over the next several days, we can have fun thinking about three great "what ifs" that could become reality for the Red Sox:
Red Sox-Indians in the ALDS
Cleveland, which closed out the regular season with 10 straight victories, will face Tampa Bay in the AL's one-game Wild Card play-in game on Wednesday.
Assuming he can prevail in the winner-take-all contest, Indians manager Terry Francona will return Friday night to Fenway Park—his summer home for eight years and two World Series championships—for the AL Division Series.
Francona got a loud and long ovation when the Indians came to Boston for four regular-season games in May, but now things really count. New Englanders are hungry for some playoff success in the Red Sox's first postseason berth since 2009. Current Boston manager John Farrell, who served as Francona's pitching coach for five years with the Sox—including the '07 world championship squad, will be attempting to beat his old boss and create some October glory of his own.
In addition to the Tito-Farrell storyline, a Red Sox-Indians series would match up the two most-improved teams in the American League from a year ago. The Sox went from 69-93 in 2012 to 97-65 this season while the Indians went from 68-94 to 92-70.
In head-to-head play in 2013, Boston has won six of seven from the Indians, who Farrell broke into the majors with and pitched parts of five seasons for in Cleveland.
Red Sox-Tigers in the ALCS
Unlike Boston and Cleveland, Detroit surprised nobody with its strong showing in 2013.
The World Series runner-ups last fall won their third straight AL Central title with a 93-69 record that was second-best only to Boston in the junior circuit.
Detroit has one of baseball's best offenses, led by sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but it is rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias who may get the bulk of the attention at Fenway if these two teams were to meet.
Iglesias, the favorite to win both the AL Rookie of the Year Award and a Gold Glove, was developed in the Boston farm system and spent the first four months of his freshman season with the Red Sox before going to Detroit in a three-way trade on July 30 that brought White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy to Boston.
Iglesias' average, which had hovered around .325 or higher most of the summer, fell off badly in September as skeptics had long predicted. His glove, however, remains second to none, and a few dazzling plays in the field may have Boston fans wishing he was still around even with Stephen Drew and Xander Bogarts both performing well at shortstop for the Sox.
The Tigers are 4-3 against Boston this year, but the Sox did win two of three at Fenway in September, including a 20-4 shellacking in which they hit eight home runs.
Red Sox-Dodgers in the World Series
It has been just a little over a year since their big trade of 2012, when Boston sent overpaid, underachieving and unhappy stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers, along with Nick Punto and $12 million, on Aug. 25 for a quintet of prospects.
Unlike many transactions, this was definitely a move that helped both teams.
The trade, which saved the Red Sox approximately $275 million in salaries and luxury tax over the course of all the players' contracts, freed up money for Boston to rebuild in 2013. That allowed the club to add lower-priced and hungrier character players like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.
Those additions, and subtractions, helped turn Boston's clubhouse atmosphere at Fenway Park completely around, with the result being a worst-to-first finish in the AL East.
Initially snickered at by Boston fans when the deal went down, Dodgers management has no problem with how things have turned out in Los Angeles. Although Beckett suffered a major injury in his pitching hand that all but wiped out his '13 season, Gonzalez and Crawford have both been major contributors for Los Angeles, which claimed the NL West title and is considered a favorite to win the pennant as well.
Like Edgar Renteria a few years back, Gonzales and Crawford rebounded once they left the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Boston for laid-back LA. The Red Sox, however, would have home-field advantage for the World Series, meaning that both players would have to play as many as four World Series games in front of the probing eyes of the Fenway Faithful once more.
Hang on, Red Sox fans. It could be a very fun ride.