Ever since it became apparent that the 2013 Red Sox were honestly gonna be in a pennant race, the dark hole in their schedule was the stretch from August 5- 25. The team would play 19 games in that time with 16 away games, with a quick pit stop at Fenway to play the Yankees three games.
That part of the schedule is now over and how did it go? Well, the most accurate answer is the Red Sox survived. They began the 19 games in Houston and at the time were one game up on Tampa Bay. And despite the fact at one point the lead grew to 4 games during the first road trip, the Red Sox left Los Angeles with the same one game lead ( which will be 1 1/2 games before they take the field at Fenway Tuesday night, after a 11-1 shellacking of the Rays by Kansas City today). The Sox basically split the 19 game challenge, going 9-10. So they did not extend their lead, but held serve and took about three more weeks off the calendar. Here are the updated American League overall standings :
1. Detroit 77-53 --
2. Boston 77-55 1
3. Texas 77-55 1
4. Tampa Bay 74-55 2 1/2
5. Oakland 72-57 4 1/2
6. Cleveland 71-59 6 ( unreal, great job so far by Tito!)
7.Baltimore 70-59 6 1/2
8. New York 69-61 8
9. Kansas City 66-64 11 ( short of a Dodgers-like streak, they are really no longer in the race)
So the same as our post two weeks ago, as of today the one game wild card playoff game would be the Rays and A's. At this stage as far as the AL East goes both the Sox and the Rays are in a good spot to clinch at least one of the wild cards. Both the Orioles and the Yankees best bet seems to be catching Oakland. And yes, I will admit the Yanks are still in "the race", but I think it is the Wild card race. It would very difficult for them to pass all of the Sox, Rays, and Orioles. And any chance Baltimore or New York has of sprinting to a playoff berth is directly entwined with Boston's pennant aspirations. The Red Sox have seven games left with the Bronx Bombers and nine with the Birds of Baltimore.
To elaborate on that last point, one thing that has not changed in the last two weeks is that the Red Sox must play very well ( or hopefully beat up on) both the Yankees and the Orioles. Boston has 30 games left and 16 are with their two rivals. With New York the Sox have four games in the Bronx ( Sept 5-8) and three at Fenway (Sept 13-15)--all seven games in an 11 day period! The Red Sox have three 3 game sets with the O's. Six in Boston( the next three nights and Sept 17-19) and the last three games of the regular season are at Camden Yards.
One thing has changed about the make up of the remaining Sox schedule since our 3/4 pole post. At that time the Sox had 41 games to go 21 home/20 away. Now, with all of the August road games behind them, the Red Sox, as mentioned, have only 30 games to go, but the split is now 18 at Fenway and only 12 on the road. and since the last five are on the road, the Sox are entering a stretch of 18 of 25 at home.
The other major, major factor in September for Boston is because they have played more games so far than their AL East opponents, they have 4 off days to rest and possibly line up pitching ( two of the off days are both during the last week on the road). This leads us to our next topic which is Tampa Bay's schedule. ( since the Sox have ample chance to put a head to head dent in the Yanks and O's, we will look at the Rays schedule more closely than the others).
Back at the All Star break, Buster Olney of ESPN did a column on the teams with the most difficult second half sked and the Rays were chosen as the toughest. Here are the Rays remaining 33 games.
Aug 27-29 home vs. Angels (3)
Aug 30- Sept 8 West coast trip, 3 in Oakland, 4 in Anaheim, and 3 in Seattle( no off days)
Sept. 9 Off day- the ONLY off day left for the Rays for the rest of the season. ( and it comes after traveling back from a long west coast trip and before hosting...)
Sept. 10-12 home vs. Boston only games left with the Sox
Sept. 13-15 back out onto the road for three in Minnesota.
Sept. 16-23 Last home stand of the year, but it is 4 games each with Texas and then the O's.
Sept. 24-29 Finishes season with 6 game trip 3 in NY and 3 north of the border vs. Jays.
First let us look for some positives for the Rays. They get the hapless Twins, albeit on the road. ( But Boston gets the even more hapless AL Central White Sox and Boston gets them at home). The Rays get to finish with the last place Jays, again on the road. One other possible advantage from now until Sept.20, they have only three AL East games ( Boston), so it is possible the Sox, Yanks, and O's could beat up on each other. But that also means at least one of those teams are winning most nights as well.
I do not see any other plusses to that Rays schedule, but here are few negatives.
1. Only three head to head games with the team they need to catch for the division: Boston.
2. The afore mentioned only one day off, this could be huge for the Red Sox.
3. From the standings above the Rays must play 5 of the other 8 contenders ( 6 if you count today's game with KC) Besides their AL East competitors they also get Texas and Oakland.
4. They still have the nearly always brutal 3 city west coast trip for 10 games in 10 days.
5. The Rays have three 4 game series. It is seemingly much, much more difficult to sweep a four games series than a three. This could add a loss or three to their tally, especially since two of the series are with Texas and the Orioles( granted, both in St. Pete).
6. Only 14 games at Trop and 19 on the road.
Sometimes, schedule analysis means bumpkus, but I definitely would rather have the Red Sox schedule than Tampa Bay's.
HAVE ANY OF THE 3/4 POLE QUESTIONS BEEN ANSWERED??
First we questioned the Clay Buchholz status. Can he come back? As of today it appears the answer is going to be yes. Clay pitched at Lowell in a rehab games yesterday with mixed stat results, but said he felt great. He is currently in line to pitch for either Pawtucket or Portland this Friday. If he has no other setbacks, he could pitch after this for Boston.
A related question concerned the rest of the starting staff. That seems to be pointing in a very positive direction. On the recently concluded six game trip the Sox starters ERA was 1.17! In the Dodger series both John Lackey and Jake Peavy pitched complete games and Jon Lester who won his 12th game on Saturday, may have pitched better than either John or Jake. Lester was also dominant versus the Giants. Felix Doubront may have also hurled his best effort of the year versus SF.
The next question mark was the 8th inning set up situation. It is no clearer than before, Tazawa and Workman still seem to be the leading candidates.
Question number three was Mike Napoli. And maybe just maybe, the slugger is coming to life. Mike was 5 for 8 with 4 RBI in the last two Dodger games. And the home run he hit at Dodger Stadium may land by Tuesday! His rep ( and his career stats) is big Septembers and let us hope he is on track to do that again. Also in LA, Dustin Pedroia showed signs of breaking out of his long slump at the bat ( and remained outstanding with his glove).
The final question was the third base situation where I had admitted I was wrong to think the Red Sox were recalling Xander Bogaerts over Will Middlebrooks. Glory be, I may have hit the daily double. Not only has Middlebrooks hit and fielded well upon his recall ( BA of .366 and OBP of .460), but uber-prospect Bogaerts also joined Boston at the start of the west coast trip. And for the moment John Farrell is billing Xander as the SS/3B backup, after an o-fer in his first big league start, Xander has three hits including a RBI double in his last 5 AB's. This could get really interesting, as shortstop Stephen Drew has hit well of late, too.
So here we sit Red Sox nation, 30 games to go. In first place by 1 1/2 games over the Rays, 5 1/2 and 7 over the O's and Yanks. I still think the division title rest on taking about 10 or 11 of the 16 games with NY/Baltimore and taking a real advantage of the next 18 of 25 being at home ( in addition the 18 are perfectly spilt into a pair of nine game homestands---none of this in for three and back on the road and back again). I really believe with the starting pitchers catching fire and some hitters waking for their slumps, the Sox are positioned for a drive to the AL East crown, and hopefully more.