During preseason, I predicted the Red Sox would finish in third place in the AL East behind the Yankees and the Rays. This was a massive underestimation of a team that has proven to be the best team in the American League despite their current designation of "Wild Card". The Sox outscored their opponents by 151 runs, the best mark in the AL and 48 runs better than the Rays' 103 run-differential. Despite falling 10-8 in the season series with the Rays and finishing two games behind them, the Sox are just slightly the better team.
Patrick Sullivan at Baseball Analysts gets down to the nitty-gritty and pulls the most telling stats. Boston had an OPS+ of 108 while Tampa's was 103 (not bad), while both teams had an adjusted ERA of 114 (that's really good). Basically, Boston had a better and more powerful offense but their pitching staffs were peculiarly similar. But what about the postseason rosters of the pitching staff? Are these two teams really evenly matched on the mound?
Boston's four starters, Matsuzaka (158 ERA+) , Lester (143), Beckett (114) , and Wakefield (111), outperformed Tampa's four starters, Shields (122), Kazmir (125), Garza (118) and Sonnanstine (100).
In the bullpen, Tampa might have the upper hand even with Troy Percival off the roster. Using our old favorite stat Win Expectation over Replacement, Lineup-adjusted or WXRL, Tampa had three of the top 25 relievers in the American League in J.P. Howell (4.643), Grant Balfour (3.431), and Dan Wheeler (2.087) while the Sox had only Jonathan Papelbon (3.287) in the top 25. The big question in Boston's bullpen is whether Tito Francona backs off his reliance on Justin Masterson and instead brings in Manny Delcarmen in tight situations.
Defensively, the two teams are a wash, but note well: Jason Bay has seriously upgraded the Boston outfield while Tampa upgraded their own defense by keeping Eric Hinske off the postseason roster. Hinske was dropped in favor of a long reliever, Edwin Jackson.
I'd like to predict the Sox are going to win because they have the stronger team, but because (a) the Rays have home-field advantage and (b) I already predicted the Rays would win, I'm sticking with my guns. Rays in seven.