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Sox prep for likely first-round matchup

Sox prep for likely first-round matchup

BOSTON -- On the same night the Red Sox clinched their ticket to the postseason, they also dealt with the near inevitability that they won't win the American League East as the Rays swept the Orioles in a doubleheader.

The only way the 92-65 Red Sox can win the East is if they win their last five games and the 95-62 Rays go 1-4. Because the Rays beat the Red Sox in the head-to-head series, they would win the division if the two teams finish with the same record.

The Red Sox play two games with the Indians and three against the Yankees. The Rays have one more game at Baltimore before playing four games in Detroit.

In other words, barring a miracle, the Red Sox will enter the playoffs as the AL's Wild Card entry, and play the Angels in the Division Series, beginning either Oct. 1 or 2 in Anaheim.

The Angels, because they are likely to finish with the best record in the AL, will have the choice of picking which schedule they want. If the Angels select Division Series B, Game 1 would be on Oct. 1, followed by Game 2 two days later. Games 3 and 4 in Boston are slated for Oct. 5 and 6. Deciding Game 5, if necessary, would be on Oct. 8 back in Anaheim.

The only difference in Division Series A is that Game 1 would be on Oct. 2. All the other dates would be the same. In the "B" scenario, the Red Sox could pitch Josh Beckett and Jon Lester twice in the series on regular rest, which is why the Angels might pick Division Series A.

Last year, the Red Sox had the choice and picked Division Series B, though it didn't matter, because they swept the Angels.

Even before learning that the Rays had swept their doubleheader, the Red Sox seemed most focused on getting everyone clicking for the playoffs.

"We'll see how the week unfolds and keep everybody healthy, feeling good, winning, and see what happens," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We've got to see where we're situated. We certainly want to play good baseball, get guys healthy. If there's a time when it's not appropriate to run guys out there, then we'll make those decisions. And we've certainly talked about those things."

Now, without a realistic shot to win the division, the Red Sox will focus on getting third baseman Mike Lowell and right fielder J.D. Drew healthy for Anaheim.

"I'm going to do everything in my power," said Lowell. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to play in a couple of games towards the end of the weekend and get myself ready."

Francona can also get his pitching lined up. He has the option of cutting ace Beckett short against the Yankees on Saturday or even not pitching him at all. Beckett is the likely candidate to get the ball in Game 1 against the Angels.

"We'll just try to win every game, but be smart about resting guys and get ready for the postseason," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "We still have a shot at [the division ] but we need to be realistic. It's not totally in our control at this point. We have to be ready to go in October. That's pretty important."

And as one of several players who has won the World Series both as a Wild Card entrant and a division champion, Lowell didn't find a big difference.

"I was with the Marlins with Josh and we were a Wild Card and there's a handful of guys that were on the '04 [Red Sox] team," said Lowell. "The Wild Card doesn't mean you don't have a chance. In baseball more than any other sport, it's almost as even as possible except for one [home] game. I truly believe that if you're the hot team going into the playoffs, you're going to keep advancing. Wild Card or not, you'd rather be playing good baseball when the playoffs start. I'm just hoping we're the team that's playing well."

"When it's all said and done, we're in the playoffs," said Lester. "That's all that matters. We've got a shot to repeat. Hopefully we can make another run at it and get another ring."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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