You’ll notice I said “largely”. Of course, it’s not totally meaningless but as the season winds down there’s going to be a ton of attention focused on the American League East. Two regular season series match-ups remain between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and I think everyone reading knows they will receive no shortage of media attention and hype. 

In some ways, that makes sense. After all, they really are one of sports’ greatest rivalries. Two franchises who have now been linked for nearly 100 years by an ill advised trade that sent Babe Ruth who would go on to become arguably the most important baseball player in the history of the sport from Boston to New York for nothing more than a bag of cash. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone looking at a short-term gain over a long term investment. 

This season once again finds the old rivals neck-and-neck as the regular season winds down. New York has a division lead of merely a half-game over Boston as of this weekend. The two teams are one and two for best record in the American League and two and three for best record in baseball, trailing only the Major League leading Philadelphia Phillies for best overall record. 

Two old rivals locked in a race for a division title that only one of them can have. Sounds like a big deal right? Well not so fast. This isn’t 1978 when the team crowned American League East Champ moves onto the post-season while the second place finisher slumps off into the sunset waiting for spring training to start and another chance at a run for World Series glory. No, this is 2011 and the loser of the American League East will in all likelihood simply move onto the playoffs as the American League Wildcard entry to the playoffs. 

The Boston Red Sox are currently 8.5 games ahead of division rivals Tampa for the AL Wildcard slot and that’s following a week when the Rays managed to take two of three from the Sox in Boston. Tampa still has seven games against the Red Sox and six against the Yankees.  That might give Rays fans some hope but the Rays just don’t appear to have the offense needed in spite of their solid pitching to go on a run against either of their division rivals.

Meanwhile the Yankees and Red Sox trade spots in the standings almost weekly. Both Boston and New York are very good but both teams also have some weaknesses. The Yankees have relied on a collection of largely veteran pitchers who could falter at any moment. Guys like Freddy Garcia and 2005 Cy Young award winner Bartolo Colon both of whom are having much better seasons than even the most optimistic Yankee fans could have predicted back in April. Meanwhile AJ Burnett continues to be a mystery and Phil Hughes has been plagued by injuries. 

The Red Sox are battling some injuries to middle of the order bats such as Kevin Youklis and David Ortiz. Even more worrisome for Sox fans is that the starting rotation, thought to be one of the league’s best when the season started, has not come together in the manner that most thought it would. Daisuke Matsuzaka cemented himself as an all-time Boston free agent bust back in the spring when the chronically inconsistent starter was lost for the remainder of the season and likely for the remainder of his career in Boston with a severe arm injury. John Lackey the big free-agent signing of the 2009-2010 offseason is still trying to find his groove in a Boston uniform and currently sports an e.r.a. of 6.02 on the season. Clay Buchholz is on the disabled list with a back injury that may or may not keep him as an observer through the end of the regular season.

These injuries have turned the Boston rotation once thought to be one of their greatest strengths into a bit of a question mark. Yes, the team is getting Cy Young caliber stuff out of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester but the names Andrew Miller and Eric Bedard were not on the tips of many Red Sox fans tongues as possible starters in October back in April. Veteran Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has done his usual admirable job by filling in when needed but he’s never been dominant and is unlikely to be a viable starting option come the playoffs.

 A race for home field is important but pales in comparison to what is going on in the American League Central where three teams, The Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox are all fighting for their postseason lives. In the National League West the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants are facing the very real possibility of missing the post-season all together as the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks show no signs of letting up and currently sport a 2.5 game lead over the Giants who are 7 games back of the Atlanta Braves in the National League Wildcard race.

Everyone in baseball knows it’s all about October and the postseason is a tougher entry in baseball than in any of the other three major professional team sports. Home field is really nice but gaining entry to the playoff field is the most important thing and that appears likely for both Boston and New York no matter who wins the division.  

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