After 161 games and one of the most painful Septembers in recent memory, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are tied for the AL Wild Card lead with 90-71 records. Both teams will be throwing aces tonight; Boston is going with Jon Lester on short rest even though he has lost his last three starts and seen his ERA swell over half a run, from a tidy 2.93 to a much less spectacular 3.49. He's only faced the Baltimore Orioles once this year, exactly five months ago in Camden Yards, but if it's any consolation he hurled eight strong innings and thoroughly dominated a lineup that featured Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Mark Reynolds. He may be scuffling, but right now he's Boston's best, and only, option. On the other side, Alfredo Simon, just your run of the mill mediocre Orioles pitcher with a career 5.15 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, will be on the bump, so Boston's batters should get some decent pitches to hit.
Tampa Bay will rest its postseason hopes on the shoulders of David Price, their talented southpaw. As of this writing the Yankees have not named their starting pitcher for tonight's game, but it wouldn't surprise me if they go with some no-name September call-up.
For Boston, the stakes couldn't be any higher. If they lose and the Rays win, they will have completed one of the biggest September chokes in the history in the sport and capped it off by dropping six of their seven games against the lowly Orioles in the season's final ten days. For a team of All-Stars, one that was predicted to dominate the regular season, possibly win 100 games and challenge the Phillies in the World Series, to miss the playoffs altogether would be humiliating. The Rays have much less at stake since they were left for dead four weeks ago and weren't even supposed to get this close after losing Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Rafael Soriano to free agency last winter. They're playing with house money while the pressure is on Boston to finish what they started.
If both teams win or lose, then a one-game playoff will be held tomorrow at Tropicana Field. I don't need to tell you that the Bosox have made a habit of losing such games in spectacular fashion thanks to Denny Galehouse and Bucky Dent, and who would Boston pitch? John Lackey? Tim Wakefield? Josh Beckett on two days rest? Lester again? None of those options sound appealing.
Coolstandings.com favors the Sox as 18 percent more likely to win the Wild Card. Would you bet on those odds? I still would.
Oh, and apparently the same thing is happening in the NL between St. Louis (Tampa Bay equivalent) and Atlanta (Boston). Unfortunately no one really seems to care, but for the record coolstandings favors the Redbirds by nearly 23 percent.
So will the Sox and Braves hold on? Can the Cardinals and Rays defy the odds and finish their amazing September comebacks?
Tune in tonight to find out.