The Boston Red Sox, somewhat surprisingly, won the AL East this season and owns home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Rays had to win an extra game just to make the playoffs, then beat Cleveland in the AL wild-card game Wednesday night.
So it's a battle of division rivals when the Rays and Sox meet for a best-of-five American League Divisional Series, starting with Game 1 at Fenway Park Friday afternoon.
Boston took the season series from Tampa this year; but who will win this ALDS, and who should we back with our MLB picks in this ALDS?
Rays-Sox ALDS Betting Odds
As of Thursday AM most MLB betting outlets were chalking Boston at around -120 to win this series, with Tampa “getting” +100 as the underdog.
Also, most MLB odds shops were listing the Sox and Jon Lester at around -135 for Friday's series opener over the Rays and Matt Moore.
Boston, after a disastrous 2012 season, won 97 games this season to win the East and secure the top overall seed in the playoffs. The Sox finished 5.5 games ahead of Tampa in the divisional race, and a game ahead of Oakland in the battle for the best record in the American League.
Tampa won 91 games during the regular season, including nine of its last 11, which tied them with Texas for that second AL wild-card berth. The Rays then went to Arlington Monday and beat the Rangers in a one-game play-in behind a complete game from Cy Young Award winner David Price.
Tampa then went to Cleveland Wednesday and beat the Indians 4-0 behind a quality start from Alex Cobb.
The Season Series
Boston took the season series from Tampa this year 12 games to seven, and 14 of those games played UNDER on the totals, as the games trended toward the low-scoring. The Sox won six of ten games played at Fenway, and six of nine games played at Tropicana Field.
Rays-Sox At the Bat
Boston led the Majors this year in team OBP at .349 and scoring at 5.3 runs per game, and ranked sixth in homers with 178.
Tampa ranked fourth in OBP at .329, 11th in homers with 165 and 12th in scoring at 4.3 RPG.
The Arms Battle
Both teams are expected to go with four-man rotations for this series.
Boston went 14-2 in games started by Clay Buchholz this season, and 19-14 for Lester, but only 5-5 for Jake Peavy and 14-15 for John Lackey.
The Rays went 21-6 in Matt Moore's starts this year, 14-8 for Cobb, 14-9 for Chris Archer and 14-13 for Price.
In the match-up of the bullpens Tampa ranked 18th this year with a 3.59 ERA and converted 42 of 60 save opportunities, while Boston ranked 21st with a 3.70 ERA but blew 24 of 57 save opps.
Rays-Sox Betting Trends
Tampa only went 41-41 on the road this season.
Boston went 53-28 at Fenway Park
The OVER/UNDERS went 34-43 in Boston home games.
The totals went 38-39 at the Trop this year.
Boston will host Games 1 and 2 of this series Friday and Saturday, before the teams head to St. Petersburg for Games 3 and, if necessary, 4 Monday and Tuesday. A series-deciding Game 5 would be played back in Beantown next Thursday.
Our Take on this ALDSBoston has an edge with the bats, owns home-field advantage for this series and has beaten Tampa 12 of 19 times this year. The starting pitching for this series looks about even, and we'll give the Rays a short edge in the bullpen. But the Sox will also play Friday on five days rest, and those extended down-times can ruin momentum. Tampa, on the other hand, won in Texas Monday and in Cleveland Wednesday. So we'll go with the hotter hand and take the Rays for our free sports pick to win this ALDS.