As the Rays and Yankees continue to play a game of hot potato with the AL East pennant, let us review what is at stake this weekend.
The Rays simply need to win at least as many games as the Yankees do this weekend since the Rays own any tie breaker for the division. The Rays also own the tie breaker against the Twins for home field advantage through the American League playoffs and have a full game lead on the Twins. The fact remains – the only team that can stop the Rays from winning the east and claiming home field advantage throughout the playoffs is the Rays. They have three more games against the Royals who have already burned their best pitcher in the series in Zack Greinke. Ironically, the Royals are the only team in the American League that the Rays have a winning percentage of under .500 against having lost three of the five games between the two teams. If the Rays win out, mission accomplished. If the Rays and Yankees both win their series taking two of three, mission is still accomplished.
Here is what is at stake:
What does the winner get?
- Game 1 and Game 2 in their home ball park
- Game 1 facing Cliff Lee, who at times, has been the most dominant pitcher in the league
- Facing a Rangers lineup that gets presumptive AL MVP Josh Hamilton back in its lineup
- Potentially playing two games in Arlington where the Rangers’ offense puts up scary numbers
- The misfortune of facing the most dominating closer in the league of late not named Rafael Soriano
What does the loser get?
- Game 1 and Game 2 in Minneapolis where the temps are in the mid 60’s during the day and upper 40’s at night
- Game 1 against Francisco Liriano, one of the toughest pitchers in the league although he has been struggling of late.
- A game 2 or 3 against another left-hander in Brian Duensing
- Trying to kick-start a running game against Joe Mauer and Drew Butera who throw very well
- Facing Jim Thome who is amongst the hottest hitters in baseball right now.An entire series against a Twins lineup that will be without Justin Morneau due to a concussion
- Playing in Target Field where the Rays won three of four earlier this summer while the Yankees are 54-18 against Ron Gardenhire
Is there really a loser in this situation? The winner gets home field advantage which is not as valuable as one may think. Five times this decade, the World Series has involved two teams that did not have home field advantage in their respective league and at no time this decade has the series involved both teams that got there off the strength of home field advantage. SI.com’s Joe Sheehan tells us that home field advantage throughout the league playoffs improves a team’s World Series participation chances by just eight percent.
The baseball postseason is merely a highly entertaining roll of the dice. Being the best team over 162 games makes you just 8 percent more likely than the other guys are to get through to the World Series. Having home-field edge doesn’t confer much advantage. Even if a series comes down to one game, where that game is played doesn’t seem to matter. This is why two teams in the same division who have already locked up postseason berths do not go all out for the higher seed in the waning days of the season, preferring to ensure that their players are healthy, rested and ready to go when the postseason begins.
This is why Evan Longoria remains on the bench and this is why Javier Vazquez pitched another game in a Yankees uniform on Monday night. Frankly, the only advantage to winning home field advantage is bragging rights. As long as the Rays remain in the American League East, they are not going to have many chances to win the division with the payroll disparity in regards to the Yankees and the Red Sox. As good as the Rays have been this year, this final week would likely have been very different if the Red Sox not had suffered an insane amount of injuries during this season. It is not crazy to think that the Rays would have been entering this weekend fighting for a playoff berth rather than trying to figure out whether they needed to book a flight to Minneapolis or not.
Losing the division would be a tough pill to swallow with the rather weak strength of schedule the Rays have had down the stretch here as they have gone 3-4 thus far against the Mariners, Orioles, and Royals. Momentum means absolutely nothing so you should not be concerned about how the Rays play this weekend as much as how healthy they are coming out of the weekend. There is no loser coming out of this weekend: one team gets the banner and take on a very dangerous team while the other gets the Twins who are not at full strength and a place both teams have proven this year they can win.
The only thing I want more than the Rays winning the American League East is for the club to be 100% healthy on October 6th for Game 1 of the ALDS, wherever it is to be played. I’m holding tickets to the first two home playoff games and I hope to be able to use both of them as soon as possible!