The Red Sox haven’t completely tanked over the last six weeks, in large part thanks to a strong run against subpar competition to even things out and allow them to maintain their position in the postseason race. But this period has featured a lot of losses, and more specifically it has featured a disproportionate number of losses that cause us to reflexively refer to it as the worst loss of the season. Granted, a lot of that is surely tied up in recency bias, as we are only human, but I don’t think that’s the case with Monday. That was a truly horrific game, and “worst loss of the season” seems like a perfectly cromulent description of the afternoon.
But we’re not here to harp too much on that game, because as poor as it was — and I can’t stress enough how terrible of a loss this was for the Red Sox — it still only counts as one loss. That’s the neat thing about the baseball rule book; a single game can only count once in the standings, no matter how embarrassing it is. Neat fun fact! That’s a good thing for the Red Sox, because while they failed to gain ground in the postseason race, every team with whom they are contending for a postseason spot besides the Blue Jays either lost or were off on Monday.
To put it another way, despite a loss that, well, frankly I wouldn’t argue if you told me it was worth three losses in the standings, the Red Sox are still in a solid position for a playoff spot. While I certainly want to ensure this does not come off in a way that makes it seem as though things are wrapped up, because they are not, Boston still has a better shot than not at this point to play beyond the regular season. After the action on Monday, they still have a three-game cushion for a postseason spot, only trail New York by a half-game for home field in the Wildcard Game, and have a 79 percent chance at making the postseason by FanGraphs’ odds and a 77.5 percent chance by the odds at Baseball Prospectus.
And as we look at the Red Sox schedule for the rest of the season, it’s really all about how the team performs in this next week of action. While Boston’s schedule to close out the season is relatively soft, there are some difficult matchups coming up over the next three series, including their current set with the Rays. They follow that series up with the White Sox, who are a shoo in to win the AL Central, and then travel west for a series against the Mariners. They also have a three-game set soon after that against the Yankees.
Those series are important, but not in the sense that they need to dominate those games or take control against quality teams. No one would complain about that happening, but really they just need to hold serve in those 12 games (including Monday) and beat up on the lesser opponents the rest of the time. Here’s a conservative but reasonable way the rest of the series this season can go.
- One of three against the Rays
- One of three against the White Sox
- Two of three against the Mariners
- Two of three against the Orioles
- One of two against the Mets
- One of three against the Yankees
- Two of three against the Orioles
- Two of three against the Nationals
That would not be a great finish to the season and it would only include one series win against a team .500 or better, but it would also likely be enough to get this team into the postseason. That would give Boston 12 more wins down the stretch, bringing them to 91 on the season. It would also give them a two-game cushion over Toronto for the second wildcard by FanGraphs’ projections, and a four-game cushion over Oakland by BP’s projections.
And of course, things almost certainly won’t go exactly like that. Maybe they’ll only win one of those games against Seattle, but take two against a White Sox team battling some injuries. Or maybe they’ll sweep one of those Orioles series. The point is that, with the end of the season now clearly in sight, there is a path to the postseason that doesn’t rely on the Red Sox coming on strong against the league’s best. It goes without saying that both they and we would prefer that, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
But a collapse against those teams also is not. We’ve seen the Red Sox too often lately slide against good competition, and really that’s the only thing they can’t afford. Monday was frustrating, but ultimately it was just one game. It can’t be what leads to another extended losing streak, because given how easy on paper the schedule gets down the stretch, an extended losing streak is this team’s only real ticket out of the postseason picture.