Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pennant Race Time!

The good news; after the Red Sox finish up their upcoming three game sets in Toronto and New York they only have nine more road games left for the rest of the year. There is a quickie three game trip in Texas from 9/5 - 9/7 and then a six game trip through Toronto and Tampa Bay 9/15 - 9/21 and that is it. All the rest are home games where the Sox are 43-18.

The bad news; excluding Texas, where they are yet to play this year the Sox are combined 3-12 at Toronto, New York, and Tampa Bay. Even more frightening, they are 0-9 at Toronto and Tampa Bay this year where 9 of their remaining 15 road games are played.

As they embark on the first six of these fifteen remaining road games in Toronto and New York, depending on how the Twins fare tonight (8/21, a Sox off-day) they could either find themselves tied for the lead in the Wild Card race or a game up. There is an arrogance I think of us Red Sox fans, assuming the team will be handed the Wild Card if the whole winning the AL East thing doesn't work out. Well, that is really not the case. Do I think the Red Sox are a better team than the Twins? Yes, I do think that and I'll point to their vastly superior run differential of +117 to the Twins +62 to bolster my claim. But do I think the Twins have the ability to play one or two games better than the Red Sox over the season's final five weeks? Well, yes I think that too.

So, is this supposed to be a call for panic concerning the Red Sox? Well not really unless Josh Beckett is in fact injured. What it is supposed to be though is a wakeup call that the Red Sox have just 35 games remaining and if they want to actually be playing in October, they cannot coast down the stretch as they did last year.

As I said before, regarding the Wild Card they will at best be up one game and at worst tied heading into the final 35. And as for the division, well if they want to take that they have to pickup five games on Tampa Bay between now and the end of the year, and that is going to be very tough unless they can somehow buck this year's recent history trend and go 5-1 or 6-0 against them over the remaining six head to head games. Of course it is possible, but it won't be easy and nobody will hand it to them, which is I think what some people are expecting.

So, how do they make this final push? Here are what I would call reasonable goals to get to the 95 or so wins it will probably take to secure a playoff spot:

1) Split the six games in Toronto and New York (3-3), take 2 of 3 in Texas (5-4), and split the final six games in Toronto and Tampa (8-7). While 8-7 may not be a dazzling road mark, it certainly beats 30-36, which is where they are at now.

2) Their final twenty home games include three against Chicago, Baltimore, Tampa, and New York, and four against Toronto and Cleveland. If they could take 2 of 3 from Chicago, Tampa, and New York (6-3), sweep the Orioles (9-3), and then take 3 of 4 from both Cleveland and Toronto then we are looking at a 15-5 record over these final 20 home games. Whether or not it breaks down like I have spelled out, a 15-5 run at home certainly seems possible and only slightly above the team's current .704 home winning percentage. Factor in the fact that the last seven games of the year will be against Cleveland and New York who should both be in full "playing out the string" mode and I like the chances even more.

So, after all of that, where does that leave the Red Sox? Well, if they can go 23-12 in their final 35 as outlined above they will finish at 96-66 or with the exact same record as they had last year. Last year, that was good for the AL East crown. This year, it will probably only be good enough for the Wild Card. Is that a huge deal? Well yes, if you consider the Angels to be a far scarier team than the White Sox as I do. Regardless, to just get into the playoffs, the Red Sox need to hit the accelerator some and starting now. As I said before, the Sox cannot just coast on in to the playoffs this year, they will really need to push to make the tournament. Obviously, let's hope they do that. It's a legitimate race for the playoffs right now folks. Let's enjoy it.

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