Power Rankings: Rating potential Red Sox postseason opponents

Rob Bradford
September 17, 2013 - 5:48 am

"We still have work to do." This has become Red Sox manager John Farrell's mantra leading into the final 11 games. But the reality is that the work to be done isn't about the regular season, but rather what awaits come Oct. 4. That's when the Sox will kick off their best-of-five American League Division Series against some yet-to-be-determined team. So, with the reality of a playoff series looming, let's take a look at which teams the Red Sox will most want to face, and which ones they'll probably want to steer clear of:  1. Athletics The A's have the second-best record in the American League, standing three games in back of the Red Sox. But the reason why they get the nod over the ultra-talented Tigers is for the simple reason that Bob Melvin's club is red hot. Sure, they got blown out by the Angels on Monday night, but since Aug. 26 they are 16-5 and had won eight of nine games before their latest loss. Record vs. Red Sox: 3-3 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: During the A's recent run (starting on Aug. 26), they have three pitchers with ERAs under 2.00 -- Bartolo Colon (4 starts, 1.13 ERA), Sonny Gray (3 starts, 1.83 ERA) and Dan Straily (4 starts, 1.90 ERA). Colon, in particular, has given the Sox trouble, allowing two runs in 13 2/3 innings this season. The A's also possess the same kind of opportunistic success that has characterized the Red Sox, carrying a .342 batting average with runners in scoring position over the last 21 games. Why Red Sox will want to play them: Two of the A's hottest pitchers (Gray, Straily) are, for all intents and purposes, rookies. They haven't faced a Red Sox lineup that has fared quite well against newbie hurlers this season. Also, during Oakland's hot stretch, its bullpen hasn't exactly been lights out, carrying a 4.81 ERA in that span, with hitters managing a .314 batting average against closer Grant Balfour in the last three weeks of games. 2. Tigers Considered by many as the American League's most talented team from top to bottom, the American League Central-leading Tigers are one game behind Oakland and four games in back of the Sox. After treading water in recent weeks, Detroit has managed to find something of a groove lately, winning five of their last six games (albeit with three of the wins coming against the Mariners and the White Sox). Record vs. Red Sox: 4-3 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: Have you looked at their starting rotation/lineup? There is no team that can match the Boston starters like the Tigers, with Jim Leyland having the ability to send out Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. And it's not as if they've been pitching poorly (although Scherzer has had subpar starts in two of his last three outings). And, as for the offense, it is simply the best, with Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez catching fire over their last 20 games, hitting .394 and .385, respectively. Why Red Sox will want to play them: The bullpen has been awful of late. Specifically, the Detroit relievers carry the worst ERA of any bullpen since Aug. 26 (6.75). The Red Sox have also shown an ability to handle Verlander, driving the righty out of the game after just five innings in their only meeting this season.  3. Rays After their win over the Rangers Monday night, the Rays have a one-game lead for the best wild card record, residing 1½ games ahead of Cleveland and three games up on Baltimore. After losing two straight to the Red Sox last week, Tampa Bay has won four of its last five, allowing a total of 11 runs in the process. Record vs. Red Sox: 7-12 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: That starting pitching hasn't gone anywhere. Tampa Bay starters have held Sox hitters to just a .217 batting average this season, with half of the Rays' losses to the Sox being pegged on the bullpen. Other than one start when he was nearing a stint on the DL, David Price has dominated the Sox in their five meetings. Take away the May 15 outings and the lefty has allowed just five earned runs in 30 1/3 innings vs. the Red Sox (1.48 ERA). Also of note: In two starts against the Sox, Matt Moore has a 1.80 ERA. Why Red Sox will want to play them: Of all the remaining playoff contenders, the Rays present the least threatening offense. In the teams' recent three-game series, the Rays managed just a .174 batting average against Sox pitching, and Tampa Bay doesn't have a single hitter hitting .300 or better over the last 20 games. The bullpen might also be running on fumes, having had to weather one off day for the last month of the regular season.  4. Rangers The Rangers are still one of the two wild card teams, but the way they're going, that status might be changing soon. They are experiencing a collapse reminiscent of the 2011 Red Sox, having gone 2-12 this month. Making matters worse for Ron Washington's club is that it has lost five of its six meetings in September against Oakland, which holds a 6½-game lead over Texas in the American League West. Record vs. Red Sox: 4-2 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: They still have a ton of talent, and some lock-down pitchers. Yu Darvish continues to be one of the best pitchers in the American League, and Matt Garza and Derek Holland present some anxiety despite their recent struggles, with Holland allowing just two earned runs over 14 innings against the Sox this season. (Note: Those two pitchers have 8.22 and 10.13 ERAs, respectively, over their last three starts.) And closer Joe Nathan is among the most reliable end-of-gamers in the league (although with just one save opportunity this month you might have forgotten that fact). And here's a fun fact: The Sox are 5-11 when playing in Arlington over the last four seasons, having lost five of their last six visits. Why Red Sox will want to play them: The Rangers are absolutely reeling. The team's starters this month have totaled a 5.99 ERA, with a usually-reliable offense totaling a .670 OPS during the stretch. While Alex Rios (.935 OPS this month) has filled in admirably for the suspended Nelson Cruz, some of the other mainstays haven't produced. Adrian Beltre has a .576 OPS in September, while Ian Kinsler (.577), Mitch Moreland (.638) and David Murphy (.691) aren't much better. 5. Indians Terry Francona's team isn't going away. Cleveland is a half-game out of a wild card spot, having missed an opportunity to leapfrog Texas after losing to Kansas City. It has been well documented that the Indians have perhaps the softest schedule the rest of the way -- finishing off with the Astros, White Sox and Twins -- but they first have to get by a Royals team against whom they've lost their last three games. Record vs. Red Sox: 1-7 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: Pushing the Francona drama aside, the Indians possess one of the AL's hottest starting pitchers in Ubaldo Jimenez. The righty has allowed one earned run over his last three starts (21 1/3 innings), having struck out 22 and walked just three. As a staff, the Indians carry the majors' third-best ERA this month (2.96). They are also a resilient bunch, bouncing back from any potential season-changing downturn. Why Red Sox will want to play them: Of the remaining playoff contenders, the Indians may possess the least overall talent. They are a middle-of-the-pack offensive club (.252 batting average) without the kind of offensive presence that presents too many problems. (Carlos Santana is tops among the regulars with an .828 OPS.) In the teams' seven meetings this season, Cleveland pitchers carry a 5.93 ERA against the Red Sox, with Indians hitters managing three or fewer runs four times.  6. Royals Kansas City is hanging in there, with the latest reminder regarding postseason relevance coming in a 7-1 win over the Indians. The Royals have gone 10-5 this month, positioning themselves 2½ games out of a wild card spot. After series with Cleveland and Texas, KC does finish with seven games on the road, but they are against Seattle and the White Sox. Record vs. Red Sox: 5-2 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: The Sox have had all kinds of trouble with the Royals this season, having totaled just four runs in 19 2/3 innings (1.83 ERA) against the Kansas City relievers, with Royals hitters managing an .823 OPS vs. Sox pitchers (second-best of any team). KC also possesses legitimate postseason starters, with James Shields having dominated of late. The former Ray hasn't given up more than two runs in six of his last eight starts. And in his last two starts at Fenway Park, Shields has allowed one run in 14 1/3 innings. Why Red Sox will want to play them: Other than Shields, the Royals possess a starting staff the Red Sox should be able to get to. The Sox managed to rough up Ervin Santana in their last meeting (3 2/3 innings, 6 runs), and have typically been able to get the better of Bruce Chen (although the lefty did shutout the Sox through 7 2/3 innings the last time around). And while the Royals lineup has given Sox pitchers some trouble this season, other than newly acquired Justin Maxwell, the only regular with an OPS of over .800 is Eric Hosmer (.802).  7. Orioles The Orioles have been more or less treading water for the last month or so, going 12-14 since Aug. 19. They are still very much in the hunt, sitting two games out of a wild card spot while still getting a chance to play the Rays for three games. Record vs. Red Sox: 7-6 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: Up until the Sox rattled off four wins in the last five meetings between the two teams, the O's had the Sox' number. Baltimore took six of the first eight games between the teams this year. The Orioles starters have typically been able to control the Red Sox lineup, limiting Sox hitters to three or fewer runs in 10 of the 13 meetings. The most daunting aspect of facing the Orioles might be having to take on starter Chris Tillman, who has limited the Sox to four runs in 25 1/3 innings, totaling a 1.42 ERA in four starts against Boston this season. There is also that guy with all those home runs (Chris Davis). Why Red Sox will want to play them: The Red Sox finally appear to have figured out how to beat Buck Showalter's club. During the last five get-togethers, Orioles hitters have totaled just a .190 batting average against Sox pitching, with Red Sox batters hitting .297. (In those five games against the Sox, Orioles relievers carried a 7.02 ERA.) The Orioles also have two key hitters struggling mightily this month, with Nick Markakis (.649 OPS in September) and Manny Machado (.549) taking turns for the worse. 8. Yankees You wouldn't know it by how they presented themselves against the Red Sox recently, but they are in this thing. Heading into a series in Toronto, the Yanks sit 2½ games out of the wild card. Record vs. Red Sox: 6-13 Why Red Sox won't want to play them: They are the Yankees. Why Red Sox will want to the play them: They are THESE Yankees.