Yes, I know. The Cleveland Indians will have a whole lot to say about the Tampa Bay Rays‘ playoff run, and it is very possible that the Terry Francona and co. could continue their unexpected season find themselves set up for a grudge match series against the Boston Red Sox by the end of Wednesday.
That said, despite the compelling homecoming storyline that it would set up, it’s the Rays who arguably stand the better chance of eliminating the Red Sox, and the main reason is that they’re already set up to turn what should be a Boston advantage into their own.
And as it so happens, it all started with making the right move.
Though hindsight may be 20-20, you’re unlikely to find too many arguments out there supporting the idea that the Rays should not have started David Price for their do-or-die Game 163 against the Texas Rangers on Monday. There’s no room for conservative play when everything is on the line, and that means having the team’s best pitcher out there instead of looking past it.
That basically goes double for the Rays, especially since they have to play two such games to get into what many refer to the “real” playoffs, the Division Series.
However, the downside to putting everything on the line one game at a time is that it’s supposed to throw teams off in how they want their starting rotation set up should they reach the Division Series, giving the division winner a heads-up not only in being able to set up the better pitching matchups, along with home-field advantage.
The Red Sox will have both of these, but should Tampa Bay advance instead of Cleveland, it’s Price who will make all the difference.
See, the way that the playoff schedule is set up, the Rays should be able to benefit from their Game 163 division in two ways. Firstly, going on the standard four-day rest schedule, Price would be lined up to pitch in Games 2 and 5 of the ALDS — an advantage that should be more than apparent as he is arguably the best pitcher that either team has to offer.
More importantly, however, is the fact that the Rays’ ace love to pitch in Fenway park. In fact, of all the places where Price has made more than one start in over this entire career, Boston’s historic park has given him the best BAA at .183, the best WHIP at 0.94, and the second-best ERA at 1.88 through 10 starts and 67 innings.
Yes, Price pitches better at Fenway than he does at the Trop, and it’s not even close, really. In 2013, the 28-year-old owns a dominant 1.21/0.58 ERA/WHIP through three starts and 22.1 innings there, striking out 20 batters and walking just two while the Red Sox hitters have posted a .143 batting average against him from the comforts of their own home.
So, does that sound like much of an advantage to you? Especially considering that Price could get not one, but two starts away from the Trop?
There’s still a long way to go before the Rays can be thinking about that, of course, but should Alex Cobb get them through the Indians on Wednesday, they’ll happy go into the Division Series against the Red Sox without home-field advantage — because not having it might end up being the biggest advantage of all.