Planned your Red Sox playoff party yet?

Wondering if Boston can take the Dodgers in a best-of-seven in late October?

Umm, I hate to interrupt.

While I normally don’t buy into the usual New England angst around here when it comes to fans and their Red Sox, I need to interject a fact or two.

Boston, even with its 71/2-game lead in the American League East, has some work to do, starting Tuesday in that blasted dome in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Red Sox (87-58) vs. the Rays (78-64). Three games. Tampa Bay sweeps and things will get interesting. And we are talking about the Rays, the team that has given Boston a devil of a time.

Remember 2008? Boston featured one of its strongest teams, maybe as good as the 2007 world champs, but the Rays knocked off the Red Sox in seven games in the American League Championship Series.

How about 2011? Even with Boston’s epic 7-20 collapse in September, the Rays still looked in trouble, trailing the Yankees 7-0 in the last game of the season. Tampa Bay rallied.

The Rays played in the postseason. The Red Sox did not.

But, you say, the Rays are on the ropes this time. They are stumbling, having just returned from a 3-7 trip out West.

Maybe so. This is also a Tampa Bay team that can get hot, like its 21-5 July, which included three wins in four games at Fenway.

Want to look at the pitching matchups?

Boston will start Clay Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) Tuesday. Impressive record, but Buchholz has not pitched a major league game since June 8, and he was not sharp during three rehab outings.

Maybe the major-league adrenaline will boost Buchholz. He opposes David Price (8-7, 3.51), who has had his struggles this year but is 2-1 (2.55) against Boston this season.

On Wednesday, Boston pitches Ryan Dempster (8-9, 4.79) so anything is possible. Tampa Bay counters with Alex Cobb (8-3, 2.99).

Which Cobb shows up? The one who has a 5.29 ERA against Boston or the one who is 5-0 at home?

On Thursday Boston brings one of its aces, Jake Peavy (3-1, 3.55), against Jeremy Hellickson (11-8, 5.04) — who likes pitching against Boston (1-0, 2.77).

Could Boston actually blow a 71/2-game lead with 17 games to go?

Ask the 2007 Mets. Up by seven games with 17 to go, they went 5-12 and the Phillies sneaked in.

We could bring up other collapses — the ’96 Dodgers, ’87 Blue Jays, etc. But you get the point.

Now, say all this worrying is for naught and Boston stays ahead of the Rays, Orioles and Yankees.

There is still another race to be run. And if you read my colleague Tom Caron on these pages (or this website), you’ll recall his words about wondering “which team will stagger out of the one-game wild card matchup to line up for Game One of the ALDS at Fenway Park.”

But that is assuming Boston finishes with the best record in the American League.

Boston is only two games ahead of Oakland (83-60) in the loss column, and three ahead of Detroit (82-61). If both those teams pass the Red Sox, then Boston will begin the playoffs with two games in Oakland or Detroit.

Not a healthy way to surge into the postseason.

As any manager worth his cliches would say, we got some baseball still to play.

The playoffs are in sight. But it will just feel better once the Red Sox get out of that dome.

Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases