Notes: Several scenarios available
Francona staying focused on remainder of regular season
BOSTON -- With the Red Sox closing in on their first American League East title in 12 years, there are some bigger-picture issues to consider.
If the Red Sox finish with one of the top two records in the American League, they are assured of having home-field advantage in the Division Series. Better yet, if they finish with the best record in the AL, the Red Sox have a choice of picking either the A or B ALDS schedule.
The B schedule would be spread over eight days, compared to seven on the A schedule. By operating under the B schedule, the Red Sox could go with a three-man rotation in which the Game 1 starter (definitely Josh Beckett) could come back in Game 4 on regular rest, and the Game 2 starter (Daisuke Matsuzaka or Curt Schilling) could pitch on standard rest in a deciding Game 5.
If the season ended right now, the Red Sox would be playing the Angels in the ALDS. But entering play on Wednesday, the Red Sox trailed the Indians by a half-game for the best record.
Do they know which series they'd choose if it was their choice to make?
"If it was us, yeah," manager Terry Francona said. "I think so."
Did Francona care to share that information with the assembled media members?
"No, but thanks for asking," quipped the manager. "But again, some of that may depend on this next week, too. We want to get through this week and see where we are, too. Things have a way of changing with injuries, with health. We'll certainly try to put ourselves in the best position. But with saying that, it's not like I've lost sleep over this one. What I really care about is who we play. If we play the game right, whether it's on the road, whether it's with a day off, I care more about how we play."
Interestingly, the B Series might not be an advantage for the Red Sox if they play the Indians. For Cleveland has arguably the top 1-2 pitching punch in the league in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.
Francona will let the media and fans keep dwelling on those issues while he focuses on issues that are under his direct control.
"Do we want to have the best record? Yeah, it would be great," Francona said. "Does it mean we are going to win? No. What ultimately matters is how we play, regardless of where and when and things like that. I don't see the need to get into a situation where we're going to name our rotation or talk about our decisions on playoff rosters when we haven't gotten Oakland out of town and Minnesota hasn't been here. That's just not the way we do things."
Coco out again: For the second day in a row, center fielder Coco Crisp was out of the lineup with what appeared to be a viral illness.
"He's supposed to see [a doctor]," said Francona. "Because of scheduling, he wasn't available until 11 tomorrow. He's not really feeling a whole lot better today anyway."
Francona had said Tuesday night that Crisp was experiencing some dizziness.
"Any time your inner ear is infected, whether it's a virus, it leads to that, so we just want to get some answers," said Francona.
Manny and Youk in there: For the second day in a row, Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was in the lineup and batting second. Francona again expected the left fielder to play an abbreviated game as he battles his way back from a strained left oblique.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis, coming off a right wrist contusion, made his first start since sustaining the injury on Sept. 15. Youkilis came off the bench on Tuesday night and went 0-for-2.
Okajima on schedule: Barring a complete-game masterpiece by Beckett, lefty reliever Hideki Okajima will pitch in Thursday's game, marking his first appearance since Sept. 14.
Okajima went through a bit of a dead arm phase, and the Red Sox used the last couple of weeks to build him back up.
"We elected to take a safe route where we thought we could get him back and have him pitch a lot and have him pitch in the postseason," said Francona. "His arm, these past four or five days, now that he's gotten to the end of this throwing program, is probably stronger than it's been since early in the season."
Minor League Awards: The Red Sox presented their annual Minor League awards on the field before Wednesday's game. Clay Buchholz, best known for the no-hitter he threw at Fenway Park on Sept. 1, is the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who hit .298 with 82 runs, 47 doubles, 13 homers and 70 RBIs, is the Offensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year/Baserunner of the Year went to Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been a regular contributor to the Red Sox in September. Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel was the Minor League Latin Program Pitcher of the Year. Outfielder Ronald Bermudez is the Minor League Latin Program Player Of the Year.
Coming up: Beckett (20-6, 3.14 ERA) will have one more chance to bolster his AL Cy Young Award candidacy when he starts Thursday night's four-game series opener against the Twins. He'll be opposed by right-hander Boof Bonser (7-12, 5.09).
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.