- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, who have one regular-season home game left in the 2013 season, there are two magic numbers left. One is six. The other is 11.
Six is the number of Sox wins and/or Oakland Athletics losses required for the Sox to clinch the best overall record in the American League, which would assure them of home-field advantage through the postseason. The Red Sox are 94-62 with six games left to play. The Athletics are 92-63 with seven games left, meaning they are 1½ games behind the Sox.
The Sox are 13-6 this month, but at 15-5, the Athletics have more than kept pace and claim the best record in the league in September. The Sox have one game left this weekend at home against the Blue Jays then finish the season on the road with two games in Denver against the National League Rockies and three in Baltimore against the Orioles.
The Athletics, whose magic number to win the AL West is one, have one game left at home this weekend against the Twins then, like the Sox, finish on the road with three games in Anaheim against the Angels and three in Seattle against the Mariners.
What happens if the Red Sox and Athletics tie for the best record? The first tiebreaker is head-to-head play. That settles nothing, because the Sox and Athletics split six games this season. The second tiebreaker is winning percentage within a team's division; at the moment, the Athletics hold a narrow edge. They're 42-29, a .5915 winning percentage. The Sox are 42-30, a .5833 percentage.
If the Sox win their last game against the Blue Jays and last three against the Orioles, they would finish with a .605 intradivision percentage. If the Athletics win their last six against AL West foes, they would finish at .618 in their division. If both the Sox and A's finish with identical divisional records, and end up with the same overall record, a third tiebreaker comes into play: highest winning percentage against American League opponents. [Editor's note: MLB changed the tiebreaker rules recently. Last season, the third tiebreaker was best winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games. That mark is now the fourth tiebreaker, but an earlier version of this story contained the outdated information that it was still third.]
The AL champion, because the American League shut out the National League 3-0 in the All-Star Game, will have home-field advantage in the World Series.
Eleven? That's the number of wins required to run the table in October -- three to win the best-of-five division series, four to win the best-of-seven AL Championship Series and four to win the best-of-seven World Series.
"We'll go as deep as our pitching takes us," catcher David Ross said in the afterglow of Friday night's division-clincher against the Blue Jays. "Like everyone else, we have a good team, but we start from scratch. We're going to have to grind it like we have all year. If we play baseball like we have all year, the sky's the limit. You've seen us score 12 a night off good teams and seen us win 2-1. We have it in our bags to win the thing."
Having the league's best record is hardly a barometer for postseason success. Ask John Lackey. He was the ace of an Angels team that won 100 games in 2008 and was beaten in the first round by the Red Sox.
Since 2000, the AL team with the best record has gone on to win the World Series three times (White Sox 2005, Red Sox 2007, Yankees 2009). On six occasions, the league's No. 1 seed was knocked out in the first round.
"We all know that, in the playoffs and in a short series, anything can happen, as we've seen," Sox majority owner John W. Henry said Friday night. "We've been on both sides of that. The good thing is our pitching is strong. I think we'll be tough."
Since Aug. 19, when the Sox went to the West Coast and took two of three from both the Giants and Dodgers, the start of a 21-9 run, Sox starters are 15-4 with a 3.13 ERA. Again, however, the Athletics are right with them: Oakland starters are 19-5 with a 3.05 ERA.
"We're deep," said Mike Napoli, who in 2011 played for a Rangers team that came within a game of winning the World Series against the Cardinals and believes these Sox are built for October. "We've got a great lineup, a great pitching staff, a great bullpen. We'll take it one day at a time and go from there."
Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who won the clincher Friday night in what was his 100th career win, is 7-2 with a 2.29 ERA in a dozen starts since the All-Star break. The only pitcher in the AL with a lower ERA in that time (minimum 75 innings) is Detroit's Anibal Sanchez, who is 7-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Lester has allowed just three home runs since the break, the fewest of any starting pitcher in the AL with 75 innings or more. Before the break, Lester gave up 15 home runs in his first 20 starts.
Lester, one of five players left from the 2007 Series-winning team (Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz, who was not on the postseason roster), said he expects the Red Sox to play deep into October.
"I don't see why we can't," he said. "We've done it all year. I feel like these guys don't care who we're playing, when we're playing, how we're playing. We're going to grind at-bats. We're going to grind out innings as pitchers.
"All you can ask for is effort. Sometimes you can choose to throw the wrong pitch or choose to swing at the wrong pitch, but when all is said and done, the effort is always there. We'll be prepared to take our lunch pails and hats to the field every day. We're going to give you everything we got. That's what makes this team very special."
Jonny Gomes scoffs at those who wonder why he so confidently preached success from the first day of spring training.
"I don't really care what it is in life, if you don't put your mind to it, it's not going to happen," he said Friday night. "Under no circumstances was I going to print up T-shirts that said, 'Hey, let's go be .500,' you know? We got to shoot for the stars. And if you end up in the stars, you might hit the moon. That's a championship too."