The Boston Red Sox seem to be ending their season the way they started. And perhaps there is a bit of panic in New England as the team seems to be dragging after a series win by the Tampa Bay Rays that tightened up the wild card race (the Angels are also in the hunt) and sent the Red Sox three and a half games behind the New York Yankees. Due to their starting pitching and improved plate performance by their offense, the Bay Rays have become the darlings of the race and many are virtually giving them the wild card. Not so fast, brothers and sisters. The Red Sox will be in the playoffs.
Each of the "big three" in the American League East have sixteen or seventeen games left. They spend many of those battling each other. The Yankees have no days off and a bunch of older players. The Yanks play seven games against the Bay Rays and should realistically win three of them. The Yankees also play the Twins in a make up game. That should be a win. They play three in Seattle and should win two of three there. Then they have three against the Blue Jays and should win two of three there. And they have three more against the Red Sox. If they only win one of those games, they should finish the season with a 9-8 finish which would be enough to seal the division title as we shall see. Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees projected to win 10 of their final 17 contests.
The Bay Rays meanwhile play the Yankees those seven times. Let's give it the best case scenario and give them four wins there. They play three against the Orioles. Let's give them all three of those. They play the Red Sox four more times. Two wins would be realistic. And they play the Blue Jays three times and should win two of those games. That gives them an 11-6 record down the stretch. It won't be enough. Baseball Prospectus predicts the Bay Rays will go 9-8 down the stretch. That certainly won't do it.
The Red Sox play the Blue Jays twice. Toronto has played them tough, so let's split that series. The Red Sox play the Bay Rays four more times. Let's give them two of those. They play the Yankees three times and we've already given them two there. And here's where the deal gets done: The Red Sox have seven more games with the Baltimore Orioles. They should win at least five of those. That should give the Red Sox a record of 10-6 down the stretch. Baseball Prospectus has them going 9-7 the rest of the way.
Let's say this writer has those records correctly pegged. The final standings would then look like this:
- Yankees: 97-65
- Red Sox: 95-67
- Bay Rays: 92-70
The Bay Rays certainly have the strongest rotation going down the stretch. Jeff Niemann seems to be the only weakness with the way the others are pitching. And he's pretty darn good. But the Bay Rays still have plenty of outs in their line up despite the addition of Desmond Jennings. They also have weakness in the back end of their bullpen. The rotation has also piled up a bunch of innings by David Price and James Shields.
The Red Sox despite the loss of Kevin Youkilis to various injuries, still have the most potent line up of the three. Daniel Bard has cracked a bit of late, but his stuff combined with Jonathan Papelbon gives the Red Sox a dynamic back end bullpen...one that is much better than the Bay Rays'.
The Yankees have shown a resilience despite some struggles with injuries. They have done a good job of resting their veterans. Jesus Montero gives them some late season pop and they have some young guns that can really throw called up in September. If Alex Rodriguez can get his health together down the stretch, that will simply add to their considerable fire power.
Let's face it, both the Red Sox and Yankees have some rotation questions right now. The patches the Yankees have used successfully all season are starting to become threadbare. The Red Sox rotation is banged up. There are some losses built into those rotations, no doubt. But the bottom line here is that the Bay Rays would have to run the table on their remaining games against those two teams ahead of them and that just doesn't seem possible. It might happen, but this writer doesn't see it.
The Angels have certainly made things interesting in the AL West, but their wild card chances are more remote that the Bay Rays. Sitting at 80 wins, the Angels would have to win 15 of their remaining 16 games to join the projected standings of the AL East listed above. That seems to be too tough a row to hoe. Baseball Prospectus lists them at 7-9 down the stretch. But the Angels should be better than that. The AL West title is their only chance here.
So hang on, Red Sox fans. You're going to the party.