After finishing their second successful long road trip inside of a month, by taking two of three from AL East contending foe Toronto, the Red Sox return home two games ahead in the AL East. As the Red Sox are attempting another last to first turnaround, let's take a look a some factors which could decide the race.
1. Schedule. From Opening Day all Red Sox fans dreaded the August and September schedule which featured a nearly unprecedented number of late season road games. But after going 7-4 and 6-3 on the road trips, the Sox now have 10 home games and 10 away left. Seven each with Baltimore and New York, three each with Tampa Bay and the Jays. The ten home games are three this week with the O's followed by the Yanks for four. The last three games of the year are hosting Toronto. The ten remaining road games are on one more long trip, four in Baltimore, three in St. Pete and three in the Bronx. While it would be great to make hay at home, it is worthwhile to note Boston has the best road record in the AL at 39-32.
2. Starting Rotation. First, no other team in the AL East has a David Price. Price's career record for regular season September-October games is 23-7 with an ERA of 2.70. The only team that come even near to a Price is New York's Masahiro Tanaka. But there is one AL East pitcher who could make a case to be better than David Price at this stage of their careers. And that is Red Sox teammate, Rick Porcello. Currently the only AL 20 game winner, at 20-3, Porcello has dominated the whole campaign.
Currently in all of Porcello's last nine starts he has pitched 7+ innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs. Drew Pomeranz has pitched better and better since an initial shaky start for Boston back in July. In the five starts he has made versus AL contenders, Pomeranz has an ERA of 2.40. His ERA at Fenway, if you take away the first clunker against the Giants, is 3.00. Eduardo Rodriguez showed what he is capable of in his near no-hitter in Oakland. Clay Buchholz is the wild card holding down the fifth spot, but before his bad outing in Canada yesterday, had pitched effectively as of late. And Clay does have late season pennant race experience.
Boston has the best rotation in the AL East and it is not even close.
3. Veteran Leadership. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Hanley Ramirez (and the aforementioned Price and Porcello) have pennant race and post season experience. Ramirez helped lead the Dodgers to the post season in 2013 and 2014 hitting about .340 in the Septembers and .467 in the two divisional series. Price has been in every postseason since 2010 (except for 2012) and Porcello has pitched in three. Of course Pedroia's and especially Ortiz' exploits this time of year are well known. But the intertwined pennant push and the end of Big Papi's career could be fascinating going forward. Imagine Papi coming to the plate at Fenway Park versus the Jays on October 2nd in the ninth inning needing a home run to move into the playoffs, and making an out could end the career.
4. Will the Kids "B" All Right? Despite the huge contributions from the vets listed above, this team has been largely driven by Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. Xander experienced a division clinching in 2013, but on a team that was coasting to the title. The others have not experienced a close September race until now. The early returns look as if this trio will continue to play as they have all year. Bogaerts has been struggling at the plate for a month, but had some big hits in Toronto. JBJ hit his 24th home run of the year in Toronto, and if he can get on one of his patented hot streaks, 30 long balls are not out of the question. And with any sort of production these last three weeks, Mookie Betts will be the 2016 AL MVP. Another B boy who could be a factor down the stretch is rookie Andrew Benintendi. barring a last minute setback, Benny is due back from the disabled list on Wednesday. His offense and glove could help. An outfield of Benny, JBJ, and Mookie is the best defensive outfield in all of baseball by far.
5. And the Rest. Do not be surprised if the Sox win a few games in which the stars of the night include Brock Holt, Travis Shaw, Chris Young, and any of the catchers ( especially the Kings of Leon, Super Sandy). And despite the fact he has looked overmatched and is seemingly mired on the bench, I predict Yoan Moncada will play a key role in at least one Sox win down the stretch (look up Astros' Alex Bregman's start and what he has done since).
6. Koji Time. The biggest problem for this team has been the lack of a reliable 8th inning arm to get to closer Craig Kimbrel. The best, but not only hope, to fill this cavity is 2013 super closer Koji Uehara. Yes Koji is 41 now, but he has guile and much tense post season experience under his sash. Koji pitched a key shutout 8th inning in the big win at Toronto yesterday. Brad Ziegler and Joe Kelly also could add to the end of the Sox bullpen.
If Boston can finish the upcoming seven game home stand with the O's and Yankees with the two game lead intact, or better yet extend the lead to four games, at that point with 13 games to go, the Red Sox would be in the drivers seat. They may not be in the drivers seat yet, but they do have the front door open. Let us see if they climb in this week. If they do get ready for a great ride.