With 41 games remaining on the Red Sox schedule they have completed three quarters of the 2013 season. ( Or for you mathematicians out there, will be at 3/4 half way through tonight's game, leaving 40 1/2 games to go). Here are the AL East standings as of this morning ( August 14):
1. Boston -
2. Tampa Bay 4
3. Baltimore 6
4. New York 9 1/2
5. Toronto 17
If even the most optimistic Sox fan was given this glimpse into the future on Opening Day ( or better yet on the last day of the 2012 season) they would have jumped for joy. Of course 41 games is still a lifetime to go ( sadly, refer back just two years ago in Sox lore), but it is still a wonderful position for the Red Sox to be in.
Toronto, of course is out ( and have been in reality since late April) and our rivals in New York are all but out as well. Of course, the team does not think this way, but some Gotham reporters are all ready printing articles about how it is in the best interest of the Yankees future to lose enough games coming down the stretch to put the Yanks in the top ten draft picks for 2014. ( sound familiar Sox Nation?). With about 25% of the schedule vs. the Bronx Bombers ( 10 of 41), the Red Sox hope to do their part to give New York a higher draft pick.
That leaves Baltimore and Tampa Bay as the direct challengers to Boston in the AL East. How do you judge the Rays when the go on a 21-4 streak in July and now have lost 6 in a row and counting. (Boston has gone 4-4 on the current road trip, so far, and extended their lead from 1 1/2 games to 4!). The longer the Sox can keep the Rays 4 or more games behind, the schedule creates a big advantage, the Sox and Rays only meet three more times, limiting Tampa Bay's head to head chances to catch Boston. The Red Sox ability to hang onto the AL East crown may largely depend on the ability to beat Baltimore. The Sox took 2 of 3 in their last meeting, perhaps a reversal beginning from Boston's lack of success versus the Birds in recent years.
Of course, winning the division in the newest MLB playoff format is huge, allowing a team to bypass the one and ( maybe) done wild card game. But let us take a look at the overall AL standings covering all teams in the Divisional and/or Wild card hunt.
1. Boston -
2. Detroit 1 1/2
3. Texas 2 1/2
4. Oakland 3 1/2
5. Tampa Bay 4
6. Baltimore 6
7. Cleveland 7 1/2
8 .Kansas City 8
9. New York 9 1/2
Five of these teams get in and as of today the A's and Rays would play the one game "series". The Sox currently have a 6 game lead over the sixth spot, which would be out of the playoffs. Again great spot to be sitting in.
Here is a look at and breakdown of the remaining games for the regular season for the Sox:
August 14-15 at Toronto (2)
August 16-18 Yankees at home (3)
August 19-25 Six game west coast trip three each at Giants and Dodgers.
Aug. 27-Sept. 4 Next to last homestand of the year, nine games three each with Orioles, White Sox, and Tigers
Sept5-12 Seven game trip to Yankees (4) and Rays (3)--last three with Tampa Bay
Sept 13-22 Last home stand of regular season, nine games again. 3 each with NY, O's, and Jays.
Sept 23-29 Five game ending road trip( with 2 off days counting the 23rd), 2 in Colorado and finishing with 3 in Baltimore.
That is 41 games remaining, 21 home, 20 away. A list of games left by opponent:
5 Jays (including the next two nights- only 3 thereafter.)
3 each with Rays, Giants, Dodgers, White Sox, and Tigers
A few quick comments:
*As mentioned above if the Sox can dominate( or at least take each series) with the O's and Yanks, they will win the AL East.
*From Sept. 2 on the Sox play only the Tigers and the rest of the AL East( 'cept for the Rockies).
*Speaking of the Rockies series, two games with no DH in the LAST week of the season?? If this race is not decided then, Papi better oil up the first base mitt.
* Not that this always means anything, but the Red Sox have 11 game left with last place teams ( Jays, White Sox and Giants), and only two first place teams for a total of 6 games(Tigers, Dodgers)
*If the Sox can get back from next week's interleague west coast trip to San Fran and LA with lead still 4 games or better, I think their chances to win the AL East go up dramatically.
QUESTIONS GOING FORWARD
1. Clay Buchholz. This is of course two questions ( OK, three questions)
* Will he return to pitch this season?
* Will he be anywhere nearly as outstanding as his 9-0 start if he can come back?
* is it really true the Sox cannot go all the way without Clay?
Three quick answers (opinions): Yes Buchholz will pitch again, by the end of August, and no he will not match his start, but will certainly help down the stretch. But, if these first two answers are wrong and he shuts it down for 2013, I am in a small minority that thinks this team can win the World Series with its current rotation. Winning the division, will be a huge step in that direction and avoiding David Price, Yu Darvish, etc. in a one game wild card playoff. After that I think Lackey, Lester, Peavy, and Doubront can win any post season series.
2. The 8th inning. The Red Sox have certainly found their closer, thanks Koji, but have they have yet to find a shutdown 8th inning set up man. Not really, Junichi Tazawa has been very good and seemingly is finding his velocity again of late, but his penchant for giving up the longball is unsettling. I still think Tazawa needs to be the guy, but I think Breslow or one or two of the kids can be the answer ( Brandon Workman, especially).
3. Mike Napoli. He continues to slump and is getting ready to remove Mark Bellhorn's name from the Red Sox record book. ( Most K's in a season, 177). Farrell has bumped him down to batting sixth. Napoli's April lead Sox fans to believe he was something he is not. His performance overall this year (until this most recent slump, anyway) is very close to Mike's career numbers. Here is one thing to hang our hats on. In Napoli's entire career, statistically his best month is September. Let's hope.
4. Third Base. OK, I was wrong. Will Middlebrooks got the call for now not Xander Bogaerts. And in the very early returns, Middlebrooks seems to be slowly getting back to the 2012 Will. This can be huge if Middlebrooks steps forward and can help provide the right handed power Napoli currently is not. If Middlebrooks has his head screwed on straight, this is a great sign not only for this pennant drive, but for a future left side of infield of Bogaerts at SS and Will at third both suppling power.
Whatever that term means this club has it. They win so many games that look lost. And they compete until the last out every night. Feel free to add any other cliche here ____________________________.
This team is fun to root for and I will be doing just that for the rest of the 2013 ride. Enjoy.