With the way the Red Sox dominated the Rays in 2013 it’s easy to say, “bring ’em on” when it comes to the American League Division Series that starts Friday. So, let’s look at the numbers.
At a high level, the Red Sox went 6-1 (.857) vs the Indians in 2013. Boston scored 43 runs and allowed 30. Compare that with the Red Sox’ 12-7 (.632) record this season vs the Rays. In those games Boston scored 71 runs and allowed 57.
Red Sox offense batted at .271 vs Cleveland, 9th best among the 14 other American League teams. We batted at .208 vs Tampa Bay, the lowest team batting average for the Red Sox vs any AL team this season.
When it comes to Red Sox pitching the staff’s ERA vs the Rays was 2.93, their lowest vs any other American League club. It was 3.71 vs the Indians, ranked 4th best the other 14 AL teams. The Rays hit the Red Sox at .232 and the Indians at .242, ranked 12th and 9th, respectively among the 14 other AL clubs. The Red Sox worst team ERA vs any other club, incidentally, was 5.30 vs the Athletics, though that was skewed by a 0-13 lopsided loss on April 23.
Taking a longer view, say, over the past five seasons, the Red Sox are 26-16 (.619) vs Cleveland (225 runs scored, 180 allowed) and 43-48 (.473) against Tampa Bay (380 runs scored, 409 allowed). Over that span the Red Sox offense batted .268 vs Cleveland and .232 vs Tampa Bay.
The Red Sox’ home field advantage in the postseason should be important, so let’s look at Boston’s record vs these clubs at Fenway. In 2013 at Fenway, the Red Sox were 3-1 vs the Indians and 6-4 vs the Rays. For the past five seasons, the Red Sox have beaten the Indians 15-7, while they’ve lost to the Rays 21-25.
It’s gratifying to beat a fellow AL East division rival, but consider this. Of all American League teams, the Red Sox’ best win percentage over the past five seasons has been again the Astros (.900), the Twins (.625), the Indians (.619), the Tigers (.611), the Mariners (.610), and the Angels (.564). In that same period of time, only 4 American League teams have a winning record vs the Red Sox: The White Sox (.514), the Rays (.527), the Athletics (.548), and the Rangers (.674). In fact, since 2009 the Red Sox’ worst record vs any team has been against Texas, with Boston going 14-29 overall in that span.
In the postseason
The Red Sox have faced the Indians in 19 postseason games covering 4 series.
Boston won the latest two match ups: the 2007 American League Championship Series (The Red Sox won 4 games to 3 en route to their World Series victory) and the 1999 American League Division Series (where Boston won 3 games to 2). That series is likely still memorable for former Red Sox John Valentin. He’s still the record-holder for RBI in a Division Series with 12 (Nomar Garciaparra ranks 2nd with 11 in the 1998 ALDS, also vs the Indians). Valentin racked up 18 total bases (tied for the 5th most ever in a Division Series) and had 3 home runs (which is tied for the 3rd most ever in a Division Series).
In the other two postseason series the Indians won: the American League Division Series of 1998 and 1995.
The Rays, meanwhile, have faced the Red Sox in 1 postseason series that went all 7 games: the 2008 American League Championship Series with Tampa Bay winning 4 games to 3.
So, which to root for?
As the banks remind us in television commercials, past performance is not a reliable indicator of future outcomes. While I believe that the stats are more favorable to Boston in a match up vs the Indians, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Cleveland would be coming to town riding a season-high win streak (it will be 11 straight if they beat the Rays on Wednesday). While home field advantage is unlikely to faze the Rays who play at Fenway frequently, it’s also unlikely to matter much to Terry Francona’s team, either. Tito will be sharing all that he learned about playing to win at Fenway with his crew. And that’s a considerable amount of knowledge.
There’s certainly sentimentality for some in seeing Francona come back to Boston — and there’s no love lost towards the Rays, who, I suspect many Boston fans would be very happy to send packing.
When all is said and done, though, I’ll be rooting for an Indians win because I think it’s best for the Red Sox chances down the line. What do you think?