The Tampa Bay Rays had a tremendous season and are very much capable of taking Boston out in the 2008 ALCS. Let me explain, however, why these two teams might not be as evenly matched as they appear. The important measures, as far as I am concerned, are how a team performed over the course of the season and how they performed heading into the post-season. Because rosters change, players get injured or heal up, and guys who start slow or fast often do not end the season that way, it's important to look at a team's constitution towards the end of the season. So here are some numbers.
OPS+ 108 103
ERA+ 114 114
AUG .854 .836
SEP .796 .767
LDS .700 .856
AUG .732 .738
SEP .721 .761
LDS .660 .683
So the Red Sox appeared to be slightly better all season long and they finished the season stronger than the Rays to boot. The difference, however, is not that great. Boston had a better hitting team, and by looking just at the surface, a pitching staff that was equal to Tampa Bay's. The two teams tied for second-best in the American League with a 114 ERA+.
But take a closer look at the make-up of the staffs for this series. Barring a couple of slug-fests or a game that goes many extra innings, there is not that great a chance that either team's fifth or sixth guy out of the bullpen is pitching important innings. This is relevant because baked into that 114 ERA+ number for the Rays are 81 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. That may or may not seem like a lot to you but for the Red Sox, there are 260 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. What this means is that a lot of players that will play no role whatsoever in this series (think Buchholz and Craig Hansen and David Aardsma and hopefully, Timlin) negatively impact Boston's statistics in a way that is entirely meaningless for the purposes of evaluating their chances.
The end result is that Boston is a little bit better at both plating and preventing runs. I like them in six games.