As August wears on, the Boston Red Sox hold a slim one-game lead in the American League East over the New York Yankees.
Heading into the September stretch with both Boston and New York virtually shoo-ins to punch tickets for October baseball, the Red Sox can begin to consider the possibilities of how the AL's Playoff bracket might shake out, and who they might play in the Divisional Series based on their finish in the division as well as the finishes of their opponents in the American League.
As of 11 PM on August 25, the Red Sox (80-50) sit atop the AL East, followed by the Yankees (78-50). In the American League Central, the Detroit Tigers (71-59) are 6.5 games up on the Cleveland Indians (63-64), and it's looking more and more likely that they will hold on to the division lead.
Out in the AL West, the Texas Rangers (74-58) cling to a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (71-59) heading into a key three-game series that will be played for control of the division.
Although there's still a month left of baseball to play, the Red Sox can beginning considering who they'd most like to play in the Divisioal Series, and eventually the Championship Series.
First and foremost, any and all scenarios have the Red Sox in separate Divisional Series thanks to wild card rules, of course setting up the potential for the first Red Sox-Yankees ALCS since 2004. If the Red Sox hold out and win the division, they could potentially play either Detroit, Texas, or Los Angeles/Anaheim.
As of right now, they would get Detroit in the LDS with home-field advantage swinging the Red Sox's way. The Red Sox offense has been an absolute juggernaut this season, as they lead MLB in every major offensive category (runs scored, team batting average, team on-base percentage, and team slugging percentage), and are 5-1 against the Tigers so far this year, with the one loss coming against ace Justin Verlander.
However, the Tigers are a very good offensive team, featuring the bats of former Sox catcher Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila. This could pose a problem for a Red Sox pitching staff that, despite a relatively low opponent batting average (.243), is inconsistent at times, leading to a 3.89 ERA (16th in the league). However, this hasn't affected the Red Sox too adversely, as they have largely handled their business against the Tigers.
Should the Red Sox drop to second in the AL East and hold on to the wild card, they likely face the winner of the AL West (assuming the winner of THAT division finishes with a better record than Detroit).
In the event that the Angels find a way to seize control of the division from the Rangers, the Red Sox would face a team that they have gone 6-2 against to this point in the season. The Angels are a very average offensive team, but have a very good pitching staff, anchored by an ace of their own in the form of Jered Weaver.
However, just as with the Tigers, the Red Sox have been strong against the Angels, even more so in Anaheim than at Fenway, as the Sox have gone 4-0 in Anaheim this year while going 2-2 at Fenway. This may partially benefit the Red Sox if it's any predictor of the postseason, as the Red Sox will be forced to snatch away home-field advantage from the Angels.
If the Rangers hold on the West as I expect them to, the Red Sox will have to travel to Arlington to take Josh Hamilton and Company. The Rangers have been an absolute powerhouse with an offense almost as good as the Red Sox, led, of course, by Josh Hamilton.
The Red Sox have gone 3-4 against the Rangers this season, with three games remaining between the two teams later in the season. This is one of the few teams that the Sox have performed poorly against, with the first three losses coming during the 0-6 start to the season.
They took three games out of four in this most recent series with the help of some powerful bats. Despite this resurgence and the Rangers' relative lack of star pitching, it's probably best to hope that the Red Sox steer clear of Texas this postseason.
Overall, I'd say it's best that the Sox hold on and face the Tigers to open the postseason. Justin Verlander, for all intents and purposes, is carrying Detroit to October; remember, he only pitches once every few days, and it's not as if the Red Sox are going to have to face him multiple games in a row. Despite Detroit's decent bats in the middle of the order, the Red Sox have found the powerful offense that the baseball intelligentsia predicted they would have.
Although they've handled their business against the Angels (and as of late, the Rangers), I'd much prefer Boston to simply hold sway in the AL East and maintain home-field advantage and wait for the teams to come to them, so to speak.