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Fast forward to September 23. The Yankees have already clinched the division, and will approach 100 wins. The Red Sox, who were nearly ten games ahead of the Rays at one point, are now just two games ahead in the wild card race. And out of nowhere, the Angels are also creeping, at just three games back with six games to go.
As Yankee fans, we all have an irrational desire for the Red Sox to get ousted. It gives us no more sadistic pleasure than to watch them crash and burn, losing all their pride in the process. But what about our rational desire? Who should we as Yankee fans root for in this surprise wild card race? Let's look at each team one by one.
Boston Red Sox- Without doing any real thinking or research, most would say that the Red Sox are the best team of the three, and for good reason. With a lineup featuring the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzales, they do boast the best offense.
In fact, having scored 851 runs this season, the Sox are number one in the league, fifteen runs better even than the second place Yankees. Their team wOBA of .351 is fantastic. It is significantly better than the Ray's (.318) or the Angels (.315).
There are two sides of the ball, however. And on this side, the Red Sox are statistically the worst of the three. With a team ERA of 4.15, the Sox are just tenth in the league. But it's not this simple once the postseason arrives. With Josh Beckett returning from his injury, and Jon Lester continuing his dominance, the Sox have a formidable 1, 2 punch, important in any short series. Add to that the possible return of Clay Buchholz, and rest assured we will not be seeing as much Tim Wakefield as will make us happy.
Tamba Bay Rays- The Rays at the moment are no where near the 2008 version that coasted to a division win. That does not mean though that they are not a strong contender. On the offensive side, the Rays are not in the same league as the Yanks or the Red Sox. With a triple slash line of .244/.320/.401, and a wOBA of .318, the Rays are middle of the pack.
On the defensive side though, they have quite the advantage over the Sox. Their team ERA of 3.62 is second in the league. And although this ERA may be helped by a great defense as the team FIP of 4.01 is just .01 better than that of the Red Sox, defense counts, and the Rays have an absolute advantage in preventing runs.
With a rotation comprised of "Big Game" James Shields, David Price at the top, and impressive young arms Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann, the Rays pitching staff is top notch. It is responsible though for making up for a sub-par bullpen.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- At first thought, the Angels seem like the logical choice for us as Yankee fans to root for. Perhaps this is an ethnocentric view we holds towards the Angels because they are in the AL West, hardly the all-powerful AL East. But a further look and the Angels seem like quite the opponent.
The Angels lineup is easily the worst of the three. Their one true offensive threat this season has been Howie Kendrick, whose .291/.343/.472 line and .355 wOBA is only slightly better than the Red Sox as a team. Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu are shells of their former selves, and Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar add above average but unspectacular production. Mark Trumbo offers loads of power (.227 ISO) but little in the way of on base ability (.293 OBP).
As a team, the Angels .318 OBP is slightly worse than that of the Rays. They have scored just 613 runs on the season, tenth in the American League. But while the offense may be the worst, the pitching is most definitely the best.
Overall, the Angels 3.55 team ERA is top in the league. The top two of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren is every bit as good or better than Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, and much better than James Shields and David Price. If there were any 1, 2 punch in the American League I would least like the Yankees to face, it would the Weaver and Haren. Add in the perpetually overlooked Ervin Santana (3.38 ERA on the season), and the Angels probably have the best postseason rotation of the three teams listed.
Overall- So what did we just conclude? The Red Sox have the best offense, and it's not particularly close. And while they do have several issues with the rotation, a top two of Beckett and Lester is scary. The Angels have the best rotation and the worst offense, and the Rays are right in the middle.
Because the Red Sox offense is so much stronger than the rest, they are still the most formidable opponent despite their pitching deficiency . And for what it's worth, they are 4-11 against the Yanks. So both irrationally and rationally, it makes sense to root for the Sox to get tossed.
The Rays and the Angels are so statistically similar with a .318 wOBA to a .315 wOBA and a 3.62 ERA to a 3.55 ERA. But because of the Haren/Weaver combo, the Angels scare me in a short series. In a seven game series, it is entirely possible that the two of them pitch four or even five games. So overall, the Rays seem like the least formidable postseason opponent.
As the rest of the season means nothing else for the Yankees, we can all root for the underdog Rays to boot the collapsing giant. And with a three game series against the Sox just next week, a sweep would be bittersweet.