Now that Tampa Bay has ousted Cleveland in the wild-card game, the American League playoffs can get going full-bore, as the Rays join the Boston Red Sox, Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers in Division Series play. The Ray-Red Sox and Tigers-A’s matchups begin on Friday and TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage has previewed both at the links below.
Before we get started, let’s take a brief step back and look at the betting odds of all four teams to win the American League pennant, and then some of the storylines that might emerge by any of the four potential matchups in the American League Championship Series.
Here are the odds to win the AL flag…
Tampa Bay: 25-2
That 27-20 number on Boston is officially the weirdest I have ever seen. A number based on “2” isn’t unusual, and “5”, as is the case with Oakland comes up occassionally. Nor is an 11-10 number all that unusual. But using “20” as the threshold? That comes up as 1.35 to 1. I guess there’s a reason Las Vegas sportsbook operators make a lot of money. They’re nothing if not precise.
Even though I’ve picked the Red Sox and Tigers to advance, those prices on both are really stiff. The number that makes me wonder is the 25-2 on Tampa Bay. That was posted as of this morning at vegasinsider.com, but really question whether that’s actually being offered, or if it was just the price prior to the wild-card game.
The Rays are a great bet at that price–and even if it’s been knocked down to 8-1 or so, they’re still a great bet. And the odds are ripe enough that, so long as you don’t get greedy, you could also take Oakland at 16-5 and just go against the two favorites.
As for me, I root for the Red Sox and I picked the Tigers at the start of the season and I’ll just keep doing both in October.
Now, on to some of the storylines we might see in the ALCS…
Boston-Detroit: It seems like these two teams should be bigger rivals than they are. They were both in the AL East until 1998. But there were only a couple good division races in the late 1980s and they were multi-team affairs, so there was never any bad blood. The best race between the two teams took place in 1972, when Detroit took two of three from Boston on the season’s final weekend to win the division.
That’s about it though. The city’s fan bases have worked up loathing for each other before, in the Pistons-Celtics battles of 1987 and 1988, and then again in 2008. But when it comes to storylines, we’d just have to settle for the two most talented teams in the American League playing for the pennant. Somehow, I think we’d survive.
Boston-Oakland: The Red Sox and A’s have met three times in the ALCS (1975, 1988, 1990) and one more matchup in this round would tie them for the matchup that occurred the most in ALCS play. That honor is currently held by the Yankees and Royals, who met four times from 1976-80. The Sox and A’s did play in the 2003 Division Series, so these are franchises with some October familiarity.
Tampa Bay-Oakland: It’s time for the big rematch. No, not that the A’s and Rays have played some epic battle that we need to see again. But these two cities met in the 2002 Super Bowl, when the Buccaneers of Warren Sapp and coached by Jon Gruden blew out the Raiders the last time the franchise had a winning season. America’s waited a long time for the rematch.
Detroit-Tampa Bay: Another matchup that’s never happened in the baseball playoffs, but it’s two fan bases that got very familiar with each other in football. The Lions and Buccaneers were in the same NFC Central prior to the realignment of 2002 and they met in a playoff game in 1997. Tampa Bay won that one. Although should Tigers-Rays happen, the prospect of a couple Verlander-Price battles probably matter more to fans than some silly theory I’m spinning here.