I was going to do another lazy "Random thoughts" blog entry, but I decided against it. And there will be no entry on the Pats/49ers game because I heard most of it on the radio. Sorry.
At any rate, most people are picking the Rays to win the ALCS for two reasons:
1. The Rays won the AL East and the season series.
2. Everyone hates the Red Sox and their fans. Way to stay objective, US sports media.
Here's my take:
Batting: Advantage Rays. This would be different if Mike Lowell was healthy and the last 3 batters in the order ever did anything (well, aside from Jed Lowrie winning game four, of course). As long as the Rays keep having a different person hit two home runs a game, I have to give them the edge.
Starting pitching: Slight advantage to the Sox, mostly because John Lester is untouchable in the playoffs, so far. Beckett isn't nearly as good as he was last year and Dice-K is as much fun as a prostate exam, but he keeps winning. The Rays have an excellent staff, but Lester puts the Sox over the edge.
Defense: Slight advantage Rays. They don't make spectacular plays, but they make the ones they need to. I like the Red Sox defense a lot (they don't lose much when they switch Youk to third base and Kotsay/Casey to first), but the Rays seem more dependable.
Bullpen: Advantage Rays. Simply put, the Rays are masters of winning close games in late innings and the reason is that their bullpen has been superb. For the Sox, Papelbon has been fantastic so far and Okajima has rebounded from a bad sophomore season, but they aren't nearly as dependable as Tampa Bay.
Managers: Advantage Red Sox. Would someone please tell the nimrods who infest ESPN, WEEI and the Herald nuthou- er, comments section, that "Francoma" has two world series titles? They were wrong about Belichick and Doc Rivers. Dare you go zero for three?
Intangibles: Push. On one hand you have the defending World Series champions who seem to find a way to win. On the other, you have a team that just never goes away and seems to embrace their role as the "scrappy underdog." I don't think the "Trop" is a negative: for all the talk about how tiny Tampa Bay's fan base is, it hasn't affecting them so far. I'm sure those awful cowbells are murder on opposing teams, no matter how many people show up. And the Red Sox are terrible in domes. On the flip side, I can't imagine too many people want to play against the Red Sox at Fenway, especially since the Yankees imploded in 2004.
As you can see, we're pretty much even. I'd expect this series to go seven and if that happens, the Red Sox have a decent chance of advancing because they've been there before. The caveat is that "inexperience" hasn't caught up to the Rays yet and sitting around waiting for them to fall apart might be as futile now as it was a month ago.