It all comes down to 20 games for the Boston Red Sox in their quest to return to the MLB playoffs.
The Sox woke up Friday morning with a 77 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Fangraphs’ playoff odds calculations. DraftKings Sportsbook currently has them as -225 to make the playoffs and nearly 2-1 to miss.
That’s a fancy way of saying Boston certainly should be in the tournament when October rolls around. However, 10 years ago Friday, the Red Sox were 85-60, 4 1/2 games clear of Tampa Bay for what was then the only wild-card spot. The Sox, of course, would go 7-10 the rest of the way and miss the playoffs on the final day of the 2011 season.
So, Alex Cora’s group shouldn’t take anything for granted, especially with games against fellow playoff hopefuls down the stretch. Here’s a look at where things stand entering the final 20-game push.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Not all precincts have been reported, but we’re comfortable calling this for Tampa Bay. Fangraphs gives Tampa Bay a 98.5 percent chance to win the division, and the Red Sox don’t have any more chances to make up ground in head-to-head action with Tampa Bay.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD
If the Red Sox take care of business, they have a clear inside track to not only earning a berth in the wild-card game but hosting it, too. The Yankees are in a tailspin, having lost their last six and eight of 10. The Blue Jays might actually be Boston’s biggest competition and could be the ones who break up the possibility of a Red Sox-Yankees one-game playoff.
The Sox and Jays won’t play again this season, adding another wrinkle to the situation. In fact, here’s what the Red Sox schedule looks like the rest of the way.
3 at Chicago White Sox
3 at Seattle
3 vs. Baltimore
2 vs. New York Mets
3 vs. New York Yankees
3 at Baltimore
3 at Washington
The next week and a half will almost certainly decide the race. The White Sox are one of the best teams in baseball, and they’re jockeying for position with Houston to host a first-round series. They still have plenty to play for and present a difficult challenge for the (Red) Sox.
That three-game series in Seattle, however, looks much more important now than it did in April or even August. The Mariners almost have to sweep that three-game set to give themselves a chance, and the West Coast has not been kind to the Sox in recent years.
Then, of course, that two-game set at home vs. the Yankees might as well be a playoff series.
The Yankees better get their act together because they have a gauntlet coming into the clubhouse. They have three with the Mets this weekend and then a make-up game Monday with the Twins. They do have six games combined against Baltimore and Texas mixed in, but they end the season with 12 games against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, nine of which are on the road. They might luck out getting Tampa Bay in the final weekend of the season with nothing to play for, but by then, the Yankees themselves might be out of the race.
If the Blue Jays can at least tread water in six games against Tampa Bay down the stretch, they are well-positioned to get in. The Jays have 23 games left, and 14 of those contests are with Baltimore or Minnesota, clubs that are 49 and 16 games below .500, respectively.
Clearly, though, no one should take anything for granted, especially the Red Sox who may or may not be out of the COVID outbreak woods yet. Even if they are, their last two-week outbreak is a reminder of how volatile things are.
UPDATE (11:35 a.m. ET): Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss this weekend’s start in Chicago.