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The Red Sox can play spoiler down the stretch

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Although the Red Sox won't be contending for the playoffs, they can spoil other teams' chances. And that's fun too.

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It feels like spring training just ended, but somehow there is only one month left until the Red Sox will pack up their things and head home for the offseason. I think it goes without saying that it’s been a disappointing season, and there isn’t much to play for in the final month. Fans don’t have a ton of reasons to watch, especially with football season starting up. Sure, there are a bunch of exciting young players whose progression in the last few weeks have been fascinating, but that’s not the same as a playoff race. And for as mediocre and bunched up as the American League playoff race is, Boston is one of the rare teams that is not involved in that fight.

Now, we start to look on the bright side. The fact that the Red Sox aren’t going to make the playoffs doesn’t mean they can’t have an impact on it. One of the only fun things for a bad baseball team to do down the stretch is play spoiler for the contenders down the stretch. There’s a special, unique kind of enjoyment that comes from that schadenfreude. Looking at Boston’s schedule over the next four weeks, the Red Sox have a legitimate chance to make a real impact on the playoff race. To make matters even better, almost the entire month will be played against division rivals, meaning they not only can hurt contenders’ playoff chances, but they can hurt the playoff chances of their biggest rivals.

As I’ve mentioned a few times already, the American League is extremely mediocre and bunched up, with almost every team having some mildly realistic road to the wildcard round. Looking at the AL East, pretty much everyone except for the Red Sox has that kind of chance. The team with the slightest chance is the Orioles, whose recent slump has put them 6.5 games behind the Rangers for the final wildcard slot. Even if you don’t consider them a real contender (they probably aren’t one at this point), the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays all find themselves firmly in the race. Over the next few weeks, Boston has six games against Toronto, six games against Baltimore, six games against Tampa Bay, and four games against New York.

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For as poorly as this team has played all season, the Red Sox have looked like an entirely different squad since the start of August. While Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo’s impact have been highly publicized, other players have bounced back in big ways as well. Xander Bogaerts has continued his fine season. Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly have looked infinitely better  than they have at any other point in 2015. David Ortiz looks like it’s 2005 again. Almost everyone that does not reside in the bullpen has looked like a legitimate major-league player over the last few weeks.

All of that is to say it’s not unrealistic that the Red Sox go one a fairly impressive run this month and play a huge role in knocking at least one team out of the playoffs, something that history tells us happens regularly. Looking at some of the biggest collapses in recent memory, some bad teams have played a relatively large role. We can’t talk collapses without bringing up the 2011 Red Sox, as sad as it may be. In that year, the team went 2-5 against the Orioles and 2-4 against Toronto, two of the worst teams in the division. Playing well against teams they should’ve beaten would’ve changed the course of history, but alas, the worst teams had the biggest impact.

This has happened at other points in recent history as well. Perhaps no collapse is more famous nationally than the 2007 Mets. That team’s collapse was more compact than the 2011 Sox, as they lost 6 of their last seven. Five of those losses came against the horrendous Nationals, and the other came against  the Cardinals, who were actually below .500 for seemingly the only time in their franchise’s history. The 2008 Mets had a smaller scale collapse as well, one that included a horrible two week stretch with losses to bad Braves and Nationals teams.

In 2009, the Tigers led the AL Central for a long time, but fell apart at the end of the year in losses against teams like the White Sox. Chicago finished four games below .500 and Detroit went 2-4 against them in September. Finally, the 2010 Padres came out of nowhere to lead the NL West for the majority of the season, but could not finish out the miraculous run. A big reason for that was being swept by a bad Diamondbacks team and losing two of three in a crucial series versus the Cubs.

Now, is it likely that the Red Sox can go on this kind of run and spoil two of the three contending AL East teams’ playoff chances? Of course not. For as well as they’ve been playing lately, this is still an inferior baseball team. With that being said, history shows us that when a team collapses in September, there is a bad team that plays a large role in that. The Red Sox can do that, especially if Toronto or New York collapses down the stretch. It’s not the same as a playoff race, but doing that to a division rival is the next best thing.