BOSTON — The division is clinched, the Red Sox are heading to their first postseason appearance in four years and they won’t have to get involved in any of the wild-card madness.
While a half-dozen American League teams are fighting tooth and nail for the right to play a one-game showdown, the Sox are sitting pretty and waiting for Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
As the Sox begin their final road trip of the season Tuesday in Colorado, there is still plenty to watch for over these final five games of the regular season.
First and foremost, Boston has a chance to clinch the top seed in the league.
It was not too long ago that you wouldn’t push very hard for this honor, but now it has very real meaning. The team that finishes with the league’s best record gets to face the survivor of the wild card game.
The team that makes it out of that game will be coming into a best-of-five series with a depleted pitching staff, assuming that team uses its best starter and key relievers to get through the play-in battle.
They may have to play even more than that. There’s a very real possibility that two or more of the wild card contenders will need a tie breaker game before moving on to the play-in game.
So you could have a completely depleted pitching staff for the division series.
That’s why the Sox need to continue to push toward the finish line.
The A’s and Tigers want first-place overall for the same reason. They want to sit home and wait for the wild card winner to come limping into town. They both have much easier schedules with a combined 12 games remaining against teams with losing schedules.
After the two-game layover in Denver, the Sox finish up with three at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The Orioles are fading from contention, but are the only AL East team with a winning record against the Red Sox this season.
Buck Showalter’s team has had Boston’s number since the final two weeks of the 2011 season, when the Orioles won five of seven games against the Sox to stunningly knock them from the playoffs.
Even if the O’s are out, they’ll be primed to deliver a blow to their rivals from the north.
This time, it’s the Sox who could make a statement at the place we used to call Fenway South. John Farrell’s team could roll into the Inner Harbor and leave with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It would be the perfect ending to a near-perfect regular season.
And an important step toward the ultimate goal of bringing the Duck Boats back to Fenway.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.