Familiar Foes Clash in an October Showdown

The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate on the field after beating the Cleveland Indians 4-0 in the AL wild-card baseball game Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, in Cleveland. Marc Duncan/AP Photo

The anticipated Tito Francona postseason homecoming will have to wait another year.

With a 4-0 win over the Indians on Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays advance to the AL division series against the Red Sox, set to start Friday afternoon at Fenway. The Fighting Franconas advance to the off-season, set to tee off on the front nine Friday morning.

Baseball is without a doubt a momentum game, and while the Red Sox lead the argument for best team in the regular season, they may have something to worry about when it comes to facing the Rays in a five game series.

The regular season statistics favor Boston, winning 12 of 19 head-to-head match-ups, holding Tampa to two runs or fewer in 10 of those games. However, the playoffs are a completely different animal, and if we’re talking momentum, the Rays have a serious edge.

Wednesday night’s win marked the third straight elimination game Tampa has won, all on the road. They took care of the Blue Jays north of the boarder on Sunday to force a tie with the Rangers for the second wild-card spot. Then, David Price was absolute money on Monday night in Arlington, pitching a complete game to knock off Texas.

On the flip side, come Friday Boston will have gone 4 days without playing a meaningful game, an eternity over a 162-game regular season. They played a simulated game on Wednesday, but not seeing legitimate pitching for that long of a time could cause bats to come out cold. In a 5 game series, you can’t afford to not come out strong.

Game 1 will be a showdown between 17-game winner Matt Moore and Jon Lester. Game 2 features reining Cy Young winner David Price against the always inconsistent John Lackey. The Sox absolutely cannot afford to come out of the gates cold and drop that first game. Price is 2-2 against the Sox this year, but in those two losses he has gotten virtually no run support. Boston is hitting just .167 against Price, and have struck out 30 times in 32.2 innings. Woof.

The Rays are scrappy. They have a dangerous mix of solid pitching and timely hitting. They’ve played with a chip on the shoulder since, well, forever. They have one of the best managers in the game. Game 2 favors them heavily, so if the Red Sox drop Game 1, it’s time to put away the Guinness and break out the Jameson in Boston.

Official prediction:

Sox in 5. I’m hoping the Sox can will a win in Game 1, then take two of the last three. I’d like to think this daunting road trip will take a toll mentally and physically on the Rays, but they’ve been resilient all year.

Leave your predictions for the series in the comments below. Are the Sox in trouble if they don’t win on Friday afternoon?

Boston Red Sox's, from the left, Drake Britton, Ryan Lavarnway, and Brandon Workman stand in front of the Green Monster during a baseball team workout on the field at Fenway Park, in Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The Red Sox host Game 1 of the AL divisional series on Friday, Oct. 4, against the winner of Wednesday's wild-card playoff game between the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Ray Rays.
Boston Red Sox's, from the left, Drake Britton, Ryan Lavarnway, and Brandon Workman stand in front of the Green Monster during a baseball team workout on the field at Fenway Park, in Boston, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The Red Sox host Game 1 of the AL divisional series on Friday, Oct. 4, against the winner of Wednesday's wild-card playoff game between the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Ray Rays. Steven Senne/AP Photo

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