Monday, September 22, 2008

Multitaskers. That's what the defending World Series Red Sox are forced to be in this final week of the regular season.
Though they are still one win or Yankees' loss from officially qualifying for the postseason, the Red Sox will get there -- that much is certain.

Sure, the Red Sox will take some time to celebrate their berth into October once they officially secure it on Monday night against the Indians, or perhaps later in the week.

But there is also the task of winning the American League East.

That goal is still within reach, as the Red Sox -- with seven games left, all at home -- are 1 1/2 games behind the Rays.

If Boston can win the division, it would open the postseason at home against the champion of the American League Central. As the Wild Card, the Red Sox would have to start at Anaheim against an Angels' team that, at least on paper, might be the best in the game.

"Absolutely," said Jason Varitek when asked if finishing first remains a priority. "We really had to win [Sunday] to put ourselves in the right spot for the rest of the week. We've got a lot of fun baseball ahead of us."

What will the Red Sox have to do in order to win the division against a Tampa Bay team that will beat them out in any tiebreaker?

If the Red Sox run the table over the last seven games, Tampa Bay would have to go 5-3 in their last eight games. If Boston goes 6-1, the Rays would have to go 4-4. A 5-2 finish by the Sox means that Tampa Bay would have to lose five out of eight. Tampa Bay has four games at Baltimore and four more at Detroit to finish its season.

You get the picture. It won't be easy for the Red Sox to win the East.

That's why the Red Sox will remain mindful of their other goal, which is to get to the postseason in one piece.

Red Sox Pitching Probables

vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett (12-9, 3.96) vs. Zach Jackson (0-3, 6.35)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18) vs. Cliff Lee (22-2, 2.41)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.53) vs. Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.19)


vs. Indians, 7:05 p.m. ET

Jon Lester (15-6, 3.26) vs. Jeremy Sowers (4-8, 5.48)


vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-2, 2.80) vs. Andy Pettitte (14-14, 4.54)


vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett (12-9, 3.96) vs. TBA


vs. Yankees, 1:35 p.m. ET

Tim Wakefield (9-11, 4.18) vs. Mike Mussina (18-9, 3.57)

Third baseman Mike Lowell has been hindered badly of late with a partial tear of the labrum in his right hip. Right fielder J.D. Drew hasn't played since Aug. 17 because of ongoing back woes.

So aside from winning baseball games, the Red Sox would love to get both of those players healthy enough to contribute in the playoffs.

"I think it will be a real interesting week," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "As far as health goes, I think we'll do what we need to do to make sure guys are healthy. Again, just try to mix in the production part along with it. We'll just do the best we can."

The final homestand of the season starts with four games against the Cleveland Indians and finishes with three against the Yankees.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Red Sox will have in any of those games will come Tuesday night, when overwhelming Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee takes the mound. All Lee has done in his 30 starts this season is go 22-2 with a 2.41 ERA.

As far as Boston's pitching goes, Francona has things lined up exactly how he wants them. When Francona and pitching coach John Farrell plotted the alignment a few weeks back, they did it with the idea that they could be prepping for the playoffs and trying to win the division at the same time.

Ace Josh Beckett will kick things off on Monday against the Indians, followed by Tim Wakefield on Tuesday, Paul Byrd on Wednesday and Jon Lester on Thursday. Daisuke Matsuzaka will go after his 19th win on Friday, followed by Beckett on Saturday and Wakefield in Sunday's regular-season finale.

"We have it set up how we have it set up for a reason," Francona said. "I guess we reserve the right to make changes if we want to. I don't anticipate doing that unless, again, a health issue. There's a reason we did it like we did it and I think we're comfortable. We're more apt to maybe short a guy than change the days. But, if we decide to make a change, we can always do that, but I don't think so."

Instead of thinking too deeply about what is at stake, Francona merely wants his team to keep the same tunnel vision they've had for the last few weeks.

"As a team, we all work hard and we're all here for the same goal -- to win," said Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "When you have guys all on the same page that want to win, you're going to have a pretty successful team."

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