There's an "American" league now, and they play with special rules and strategies. Who will represent this strange amalgam of baseball organizations in the World Series?
Grant: Let's start with Rays/Red Sox. It's weird for teams to play in the LDS after playing 40 games per season in an unbalanced schedule. Do you think that makes a difference in the quality of play one way or another?
Rob: What's really weird is that they played each other so often this year that Ben Zobrist and Big Papi shared penthouse apartments in both cities. So much for the fraternization rule!
Grant: You know what you get when you Google "St. Petersburg penthouse"? Pretty bad-ass. I approve.
Okay, so the Red Sox are the favorites. They have the homefield advantage. They have the better regular-season record. They have the fur.
But think of it like this: If the season were 200 games long, it wouldn't be out of the question for the Rays to do to the Red Sox what the A's did to the Rangers. And I still think the Rays' pitching is better. It's just a matter of whether it's better than the Red Sox' hitting.
Rob: First, the hitting. The Red Sox led the American League in scoring. They led the American League in scoring overall, in scoring at home, and in scoring on the road.
Rob: Well yeah, but that's why we look at (among other things) road numbers. But FanGraphs' wOBA tells basically the same story, with the Red Sox easily leading the American League and the Rays in the middle of the pack. I suppose if you're looking for a ray of hope, you might point out that the Sox have a fair number of guys who are probably over their heads, statistics-wise: Saltalamacchia, Drew, Victorino, Nava, Carp ... Maybe it goes without saying that a team hitting this well is probably due for a fall, at least a slight one. So the apparent difference between the two hitting attacks probably isn't as large as it seems. It's large, though.
Grant: Yeah, I'll remove Nava and Carp from the calculus, but you're probably right. And it's not like the Sox are throwing Jaime Navarro out there in Game 2 and hoping for the best. The Red Sox are probably the slightly better team. But why didn't we see this in the offseason? Was it just Lester/Buchholz uncertainty? Or is it the idea that John Lackey is back and just as good as ever, which is just bizarre.
Rob: Well, that's a different subject. The pitchers were just ridiculously unpredictable. With the hitters, it's largely a matter of guys like Ellsbury and Pedroia being healthy all season. Along with Napoli and Victorino stepping right into the lineup and doing well. But it wasn't that hard to see the Red Sox doing a lot better this season; just not this well. They looked like an 85-win team before the season, and instead they're a 97-win team. So let's split the difference and say they're a 91-win team. That's pretty good ... and exactly how many games the Rays won (not including Game 163).
So they're the same? No. The Rays' outperformed their run differential.
Or you can look at this entirely differently! According to Baseball Prospectus's third-order wins, the Red Sox are actually a 99-win team ... and the Rays are a 96-win team. So they probably are closer than their run differentials suggest. But again, when you include the Sox' home-field edge and Price's relative unavailability, edge to Red Sox. Sorry, underdog-lovers.
Grant: When in doubt, go with home-field, I guess. But don't forget about the Da
Two (Anibal Sanchez)
Four (Justin Verlander)
Eight (Doug Fister)