The Red Sox have been playing better lately, in large part thanks to contributions from the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo, and Blake Swihart. The pitching has stabilized for the most part, too, with Eduardo Rodriguez, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, and Rick Porcello pitching well at the same time that Justin Masterson is no longer on the roster. This has led to, while not a surge in the standings, a significant change in regards to where they will draft in 2016. With a strong enough September, the Red Sox might even play themselves out of a protected top-10 selection.
Boston went 15-12 in August, and are 15-14 overall since that month began. While that might not seem like much, it's a vast improvement for a team that began August 46-58 with the sixth-worst record in the majors. They looked on their way to a possible top-five pick, never mind a top-10 one, but things have changed since then. The Braves, who were in line to select seventh, have won just eight games since August began and are now threatening to pick first in 2016. The Reds were eighth in line, but have won just nine games in the last month-plus and now look like they could pick fifth. The Tigers were 3.5 games back of a wild card spot after July and 4.5 games up on the Sox, but now they two clubs are tied in the standings thanks to Detroit's post-Price existence.
There are eight teams with between 61 and 65 wins right now, so the current projected draft order could change in a hurry over the last month of the season.
(The Red Sox would pick before the Tigers in the event of a tie, because the Tigers finished ahead of them in the standings in 2014. This table might be inaccurate, though, with the Indians possibly picking 15th instead of 13th, but as they have fewer wins and the same win percentage as the D-Backs and Padres at the moment, and the concept as it relates to the Sox is the same, that's a minor detail at present.)
If the Red Sox go .500 or better again, they will almost certainly bump themselves from a protected top-10 pick. That could have implications for this offseason, as they would need to give up their first-round selection in order to sign some major free agent starters who will receive a qualifying offer. Even if they don't sign someone like Jordan Zimmermann or potential free agent Zack Greinke, though, they would still end up picking later than it was initially believed -- the Sox really felt like a lock for the top-five barring major changes, but they got those changes, and now selecting that soon seems unrealistic.
Sox can play spoiler down the stretch
Although the Red Sox won't be contending for the playoffs, they can spoil other teams' chances. And that's fun too.
It might not matter much where the Sox pick, though. The 2016 draft is set to be deeper than this past summer's, and the difference between who they would have picked at six or seven or eight probably won't be that much different than who they could get at 11 or 12. Plus, if they wanted to sign, say, Johnny Cueto or Scott Kazmir, who weretraded to the Royals and the Astros respectively mid-season, they wouldn't have to give up a compensation pick anyway since neither is eligible for the qualifying offer. An earlier draft pick might be a better draft pick, and a top-10 pick would mean they would only have to sacrifice a second-round selection were they to sign a free agent with a qualifying offer, but not getting that isn't the end of the world.
If anything, playing themselves out of the top-10 would be encouraging. It would likely mean that Porcello, Miley, Rodriguez, and Kelly are still pitching well. It would likely mean that Henry Owens is learning some things in his first exposure to the majors, and that the bullpen is maybe finding some useful pieces for 2016 within it. It would probably mean Bradley and Castillo are still hitting, that Swihart is continuing to figure things out, and maybe, just maybe, that Hanley Ramirez is playing decently at first base.
Maybe it won't mean all that or even some of it. Maybe the Sox will just be lucky for a few weeks to end the season, and it'll push them out of the top-10. But after a last-place finish in 2014, there would be something encouraging about digging out of the bottom of the AL East and into fourth place with a strong showing from key 2016 pieces who should have some new, Dave Dombrowski-approved friends soon. It'd cost the Sox a protected pick, sure, but at this point, we probably could all use an encouraging sign for next year more than that pick.