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There's no dividing line

The Baltimore Sun

I wish we would stop acting as if these Tampa Bay Rays-Boston Red Sox games are all-important. Both teams are going to make the playoffs, and that's what matters.

I don't want to hear any of this nonsense about symbolism. I'm sure the New York Yankees enjoyed caressing their American League East flags for comfort after the wild-card Red Sox eliminated them in 2004.

Those division titles probably soothed the Bronx Bombers even more as they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each of the next two years.

Meanwhile, a wild-card team has made the World Series each of the past six seasons. In 10 of the 13 seasons since baseball added a round of playoffs, at least one wild card has advanced to a League Championship Series.

This is not the NFL, where a round of playoffs boils down to one game played before a frenzied home crowd. It's not the NBA, where the top playoff seed earns a matchup with a much weaker foe.

Home field does matter in the long haul (both the Red Sox and Rays have much better records at home than on the road). But in a span of five games between two good teams, pitching matchups and sheer luck matter a whole lot more.

The winner gets to avoid the 92-59 Los Angeles Angels, you say. That looks like an advantage on paper, given that the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox are only 84-67. But look more closely and you'll see that the White Sox have outscored opponents by 90 runs compared with 63 for the Angels. Run differential isn't the be-all and end-all, but many analysts think it's more indicative of a team's quality than the won-lost record.

So let's not waste any more time worrying about who wins the East. In baseball, you need only be in it to win it.

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