At this point, it's no longer a shock. Perennial basement dwellers no more, the Rays have officially arrived as a strong threat in the American League -- and no one knows that better than the Red Sox. After Tampa Bay snuffed out all competition and won the AL East in the final week of the season, the Rays quickly dismissed Chicago in the AL Division Series with a strong series win. Now, these two division foes who battled all season will fight once more in the AL Championship Series.
Tampa Bay was 10-8 this season against the Sox, going 8-1 at Tropicana Field while Boston dominated play at Fenway Park. The home team held a significant advantage, which falls in Tampa Bay's favor in the ALCS. These two teams fought each other admirably over the past six months -- clearing benches, matching walk-off hits and proudly earning spots in the '08 postseason. Now, four wins lie between one team advancing to the World Series.
By month: March/April 17-12, May 17-12, June 16-11, July 11-13, August 18-9, September 16-10.
Manny's trade: It's not too often a team will ship away a future Hall of Famer while sending two top prospects and millions of dollars just to get rid of him, but that's exactly what happened at the July 31 Trade Deadline. Manny Ramirez was becoming an evident distraction in the clubhouse, and the team's 11-13 record in July ratified just how tough it became for the team to deal with it. So Ramirez left in late July, and Jason Bay entered. Since the deal, the Sox are 29-16 and, despite losing perhaps the most feared hitter in the game, seem much more confident in their chances.
Sellout streak: There's no doubt the Sox have an advantage playing at Fenway Park, and the Sept. 8 showdown with Tampa Bay added historic proof why. The Sox inked their 456th consecutive sellout that night, passing the Cleveland Indians' streak from 1995 to 2001 as the longest in Major League history. With no end in sight, Boston clearly has one of the more distinct home-field advantages in the sport.
Avg.: .280, 2nd in AL
Runs: 845, 2nd in AL
HRs: 173, 6th in AL
OBP: .358, 1st in AL
Avg.: Dustin Pedroia, .326
Runs: Dustin Pedroia, 118
HRs: Kevin Youkilis, 29
OBP: J.D. Drew, .408
Stolen bases: Jacoby Ellsbury, 50
Avg.: .250, 3rd in AL
Runs: 18, 2nd in AL
HRs: 3, 3rd in AL
OBP: .325, 3rd in AL
Avg.: Jason Bay, .412
Runs: Jason Bay, 3
HRs: Jason Bay, 2
Stolen bases: Jacoby Ellsbury, 3
Once a team that relied offensively on the powerful swings of Ramirez and David Ortiz, Boston became a team that relies on hits to the gap, baserunning and scrappy play. Dustin Pedroia has been the catalyst of this type of mentality all season, leading the AL in batting average, doubles, runs and hits at various points in the year. He's currently ranked in the top two in each of those categories.
Overall ERA: 4.01, 4th in AL
Starter ERA: 4.02, 3rd in AL
Bullpen ERA: 4.00, 7th in AL
Strikeouts: 1,185, 1st in AL
HRs allowed: 147, 11th in AL
Opponents BA: .250, 3rd in AL
Wins: Daisuke Matsuzaka, 18
ERA (starter): Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2.90
ERA (reliever): Jonathan Papelbon, 2.34
Strikeouts: Josh Beckett, 172
Saves: Jonathan Papelbon, 41
Holds: Hideki Okajima, 23
HRs allowed: Tim Wakefield, 25
Opponents BA: Manny Delcarmen, .205
Overall ERA: 2.54, 1st in AL
Strikeouts: 34, 1st in AL
HR allowed: 2, 4th in AL
Opponents BA: .273, 3rd in AL
Wins: Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen, 1
ERA (starter): Jon Lester, 0.00
ERA (reliever): Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen, 0.00
Strikeouts: Jon Lester, 11
Saves: Jonathan Papelbon, 1
The main question all season is how to get a secure lead from the starting pitching to closer Jonathan Papelbon. While the middle relief has had its streaks of being reliable, it hasn't performed as steadily as it did during the 2007 championship campaign. The addition of Paul Byrd to the rotation strengthened the starting pitching, but much of Boston's title hopes will rely on how efficiently Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches and how dominant Josh Beckett can be.
Fielding percentage: .986, 1st in AL
Errors: 85, 12th in AL
Errors: 1, tied 2nd in AL
Boston's outfield is one of the more difficult defensive units to collect extra-base hits against in the game. Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp are a big part of that, using their speed and durability to rotate around the outfield wherever needed. Ellsbury didn't commit an error in 140 games played in the regular season. Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis won a Gold Glove Award in 2007 for his work at first base, and Pedroia makes highlight plays regularly at second. Jed Lowrie didn't commit an error at shortstop in the regular season.
April 25: Rays 5, Red Sox 4 -- Youkilis and Ortiz combined go 0-for-10 vs. Rays
April 26: Rays 2, Red Sox 1 -- Buchholz, Sox dealt crushing blow
April 27: Rays 3, Red Sox 0 -- Beckett strikes out career-high 13 in loss
May 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 3 -- Red Sox top Rays, stand alone atop AL East
May 3: Red Sox 12, Rays 4 -- Red Sox pound Shields for seven runs
May 4: Red Sox 7, Rays 3 -- Youkilis pounds Rays, drives in four runs
June 3: Red Sox 7, Rays 4 -- Four-run sixth propels Sox without Ortiz
June 4: Red Sox 5, Rays 1 -- Sox move back into first behind Beckett's gem
June 5: Red Sox 7, Rays 1 -- Sox sweep as Crisp ejected in benches-clearing fracas
June 30: Rays 5, Red Sox 4 -- Late rally falls short, Boston drops 1 1/2 games behind Rays
July 1: Rays 3, Red Sox 1 -- Wakefield outdueled in St. Petersburg
July 2: Rays 7, Red Sox 6 -- Pedroia's 4-for-5 performance goes to waste in loss
Sept. 8: Red Sox 3, Rays 0 -- Fenway sold out for all-time-best 456th game to see win
Sept. 9: Rays 5, Red Sox 4 -- After Bay's late go-ahead homer, Tampa Bay rallies
Sept. 10: Rays 4, Red Sox 2 -- Red Sox endure heartbreaker in extras
Sept. 15: Red Sox 13, Rays 5 -- Boston bashes six homers to move into AL East tie
Sept. 16: Rays 2, Red Sox 1 -- Late walk-off hit propels Rays to win
Sept. 17: Rays 10, Red Sox 3 -- Wakefield rocked in loss, Boston falls two games back
vs. Phillies: 2-1
vs. Dodgers: 0-0
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.