Three of these teams -- division champions Boston, Detroit and Oakland -- have had four days off since the regular season ended Sunday. At least one of the teams (Boston) played an intrasquad game to try to stay sharp as they awaited the results of the wild-card action.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has had to play essentially three elimination games -- first, win their Sunday game at Toronto to stay in a tie with Texas, then beat Texas in a tiebreaker, then defeat Cleveland in a wild-card game -- in order to get this far.
Rays vs. Red Sox
These teams are quite familiar with each other, having played 19 times in the regular season, though, oddly enough, just twice after the All-Star break (they split those six games, while Boston won 12 of the 19 overall).
Both teams had good Septembers (Red Sox 16-9, Rays 17-12), but the Rays finished hotter, winning 10 of their last 13. Meanwhile, the Red Sox cruised to the best record in the American League behind a potent offense that led the major leagues in runs scored (853, 57 more than anyone else). The Rays' offense struggled; their 700 runs was a bit below league average. Truth be told, it's a bit odd to figure how the Rays got here, as they and the Red Sox were about equal in runs allowed, and Tampa Bay had a good, but not great, record in one-run games (26-21). The Rays outperformed their Pythagorean projection by five games. For that, give a lot of credit to manager Joe Maddon, who's pushed the right buttons in getting them to the postseason four of the last six years.
Boston, meanwhile, revamped not only their managing situation, bringing former pitching coach John Farrell back from Toronto to replace the disaster known as Bobby Valentine, but also added Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes to boost their offense. Jake Peavy was acquired at midseason to bolster the rotation. Don't expect to see much of former Cub Ryan Dempster in this series; he's been relegated to the bullpen.
The Red Sox are just too good for this year's version of the Rays. Boston in 4.
This is a rematch of last year's division series, only this time the A's have the home field. Oakland's playoff experience from a year ago should help them, but they will again be running into the league's best starting rotation. The A's have good starters, too (and finished exactly one run behind the Tigers at 624 runs allowed to Detroit's 624), but they could have a rough time with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
Oddly, Verlander isn't going to start Game 1 despite the four-day layoff; that honor goes to Scherzer, who will face
98-year-old 40-year-old Bartolo Colon in Game 1. Verlander will go in Game 2, which, if Scherzer is on his game Friday evening, could give Detroit an insurmountable lead heading back to Comerica Park.
The teams were fairly evenly matched offensively, too; it's just that Detroit's big boppers (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder) are better-known than Oakland's (Brandon Moss, former Cubs minor leaguer Josh Donaldson). A key will be whether the time off has helped Cabrera, who had some leg issues late in the season and could barely run the bases. (Of course, if he hits home runs, that doesn't really matter.)
Detroit's bullpen has been solid, if unspectacular, and Oakland's has Grant Balfour, who enters games to what A's fans call "Ragefest." You'll have to see it, if TBS deigns to even show it, to believe it. It's... weird. And TBS has gotten known early in their 2013 coverage for cutting out or missing things in favor of looking at talking heads in the studio. That's... weird.
Detroit's pitching is too good. Tigers in 4.