Tuesday, August 28, 2007


In all my excitement over the Red Sox divisional lead, I have forgotten that there is essentially zero difference between winning the division and winning the Wild Card.

The Wild Card came into existence twelve post seasons ago in 1995. Since then, there have been twenty-four teams that have played in the World Series, eight of which, or 33%, have been Wild Card teams. This means that a given team is just as likely to make the World Series from the Wild Card spot as they are from atop any division.

Remember last year? The Tigers, the World Series participant from the AL, were a Wild Card team. So were the Angels in ’02, the Marlins twice (’97 and ‘03), and the most famous example from our neck of the woods, the ’04 Red Sox. That was a 98-win team that finished the season three games behind the Yankees.

This is all good news for the Yankees. Well, not ’04, but the rest of it.

Its good news because while the Red Sox currently sport an eight game advantage in the divisional race, the Yankees are only two back of Seattle in the Wild Card race. I’m sure if you asked them if they are focused on the Wild Card they’d say no, which is what you’d expect paid athletes to say. Of course they are striving for first place. But realistically the important race for the Yankees now involves Seattle and Detroit. No matter how far out they finish, the final standings in the divisional race won’t matter if the Yankees win the Wild Card. This is because all teams are essentially even once they make the playoffs.

How much would it suck to beat the Yankees in the divisional race by ten games but lose to them in the Championship series? (If you really want to know the answer to that, just ask a Yankees fan how they felt in ’04.) Because the playoffs feature a fair portion of luck, that scenario becomes a possibility despite how flawed a team they have in New York.

Winning the division is great, but the Red Sox have all but accomplished that by now. Their next prize is preventing the Yankees from making the playoffs entirely. Starting today in the Bronx, the Red Sox can go into enemy territory and deliver what amounts to a death sentence to their biggest rival. Just like New York did to us last August.

A Red Sox season can be judged by answering these three questions, in increasing order of importance:

1) Did they make the playoffs?
2) Did they beat the Yankees?
3) Did they win the World Series?

The Red Sox have accomplished the first. They can accomplish the second starting tonight in the Bronx.

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