Boston Red Sox: Securing the AL’s top seed should be priority

Aug 31, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; A giant American flag begins to cover the green monster before a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; A giant American flag begins to cover the green monster before a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

In order to maximize their likelihood of attaining a fourth championship in thirteen years, the Red Sox must ensure that the road to the World Series passes through Boston.

After consideration of the opinion of my esteemed colleague, Sean Penney, I remain convinced that the Red Sox’s easiest path to a World Series Championship involves securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Nonetheless, it is a task rendered more difficult by allowing somebody named Bryan Mitchell to throw seven shutout frames against us. No, I must give credit where it is due; the youngster pitched brilliantly yesterday. We lost yesterday’s contest because Kimbrel was unable to find the plate and Kelly caught far too much of it.

Penney mentions the “Pythagorean Win Loss” model that bases a team’s expected win total on its run differential. In addition, I understand that most experts agree that run differential is a better indicator of team “strength” than said team’s actual record.

However, I also know that winning games is accomplished by the players on the field and is unrelated to any mathematical calculation. There is an old saying, “Winners find a way to win, and losers find a way to lose.” Is a one-run victory less significant than a ten-run obliteration? In sports, a win is a win is a win.

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Texas is the owner of the American League’s best home record at 52-26. They have maintained a relatively poor run differential for six months. If it has not come back to haunt them over a 162-game schedule, it would be unrealistic to expect it to become problematic over a five or seven game series. Therefore, they have to be the clear favorites were they to square off against the Wild Card team.

From a probability standpoint, the most likely scenario involves the Red Sox and Rangers vying for a World Series berth. I would think that our chances of winning said series would be greatly enhanced were we to possess home-field advantage. Hence, in no way, is it advantageous for the Red Sox to accept the second seed with the misguided thinking that such action places them in a better position to secure a world championship.

The irrational thing about baseball, much more so than in football and basketball, is that the “best” or “strongest” team is frequently not crowned the champion.

Run differential may be an indicator of the “strength” of a team, but it has little predictive value in determining the participants in the World Series. In the past ten years of post-season play, only once have the “strongest” teams in each league met in the World Series.

In 2013, the Red Sox had the American League’s best run differential, while the Cardinals had the National League’s best run differential. In those same ten years, only the 2007 Red Sox and the 2013 Red Sox had the Major League’s best run differential and emerged as a World Series champions.

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Is the goal of the season to secure a championship or to earn recognition as the “strongest” team? History tells us that the two are largely unconnected.

Baseball history is littered with supporting examples; however, last year provides the most recent example. The Toronto Blue Jays produced a Major League best run differential of +221 runs. They may have been the “strongest” team; however, I would imagine they would have preferred to be the “champion” team. The Kansas City Royals attained that distinction, winning the 2015 World Series with a run differential of +83, good enough for fifth best in Major League Baseball.

In 2014, the Oakland Athletics laid claim to baseball’s best run differential of +157. While they were the “strongest” team, they were unable to win a single post-season game. Instead, the San Francisco Giants, tied for the eighth-best run differential in baseball at +51, took home the championship.

The best example of run differential’s insignificance in determining the eventual champion is the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. They had a run differential of +19, good for 15th in baseball.

What does all of this mean? It means that a team that has established a winning culture, as measured by winning real baseball games on real baseball fields, trumps some formulaic calculation that is associated with the measurement of a team’s supposed “strength.”

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It means Texas should be the prohibitive favorite against any wild card team and if the Red Sox are to reach the World Series, they will have to beat the Rangers. Personally, I believe that our chances of successfully attaining such a victory are markedly increased with an extra game in Boston as opposed to Arlington.