Oh, how the tides have turned. Both the Cubbies and the Angels, the holders of the best regular-season records in their respective leagues, are sitting at home with the Padres and the Nationals watching championship baseball. Who saw that coming? Certainly not last year's Tampa Bay Rays, who finished the '07 regular season with 82 losses for their 10th consecutive season spent as a franchise with a losing record.
One year ago today, BJ Upton was probably lying to women at bars, telling them he drove a tractor for a living. Today, BJ is probably still celebrating after going yard twice against the White Sox to lead his team into their very first ALCS. If the Rays can pull out this victory, it will be one of the more impressive feats in MLB history.
But the Red Sox don't plan on going down quite so easily. Unlike the Angels, who hadn't played a game that meant anything since practically May, the Red Sox have been in full on fight mode for most of the last half of the season... fighting against Tampa. And while Tampa emerged victorious during the regular season, playoffs are quite literally a whole new ballgame... one the Red Sox ballclub knows well and the Rays are all too unfamiliar with.
So the question becomes, how much does playoff experience factor into a team's chances at victory? I am going to go on the record as saying not much at all. History has proven that. When you have a Marlins ballclub that has won 2 World Series in 13 years and teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks who have danced the Big Dance, it can't factor in too much. Even the 1969 Mets would laugh at the thought of experience stopping them.
So let's look at the cold hard facts. Despite the fact that Boston may currently be the better team, playoff baseball is all about the team that is hotter at the moment. And the Sox go into this series without key player Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett may be less than at his best, which could spell trouble for Boston as he is starting Game 1.
The Rays team looks healthy and mentally prepared to win, but this Tampa Bay club only won a single game at Fenway Park all season, so they could be facing some trouble on the road.
If you're a betting lady or gent, apparently Boston is a -150 favorite to take out Tampa Bay. What does that mean? I have no idea, but I do think it means you'll make some money when the Rays take out Boston.