The Red Sox lost for the first time this season when collecting at least 15 hits and in the process plated just three runs, which -- according to the team's crack PR staff -- is the fewest they've scored when banging out 15 hits or more in the past 30 years.
Both of those facts would suggest Wednesday night's loss was an aberration, and no need to worry, although as a result the Sox still have a magic number in the wild card, East division, and American League at-large races.
In order to miss out on the playoffs altogether Boston would need to lose the rest of its games while Cleveland won out, so it's safe to say that's not going to happen. But if the Sox take care of business sufficiently enough to finish atop the AL they'd be welcoming the winner of the wild-card play-in to Fenway Park for a divisional series -- so let's take a look at where everything stands with 11 days remaining in the regular season.
Red Sox' magic number: 1
- Tampa Bay, 83-68, +1.5 games: The Rays have recovered from their struggles of early September by winning five of seven, and have given themselves a bit of breathing room by taking two of the first three against the Rangers. Looming next, though, are four big games with the plenty dangerous Orioles.
- Texas, 82-69, +0.5: The Rangers are 3-13 in September, and go to Kansas City after wrapping up in Tampa on Thursday night. They're in big trouble -- but they still control their own destiny, and finish with seven winnable home games against the Astros and Angels.
- Cleveland, 82-70, -0.5: Tito's Tribe has been sub-.500 this season on the road and against winning teams. Fortunately for the Indians, their remaining opponents have a collective winning percentage of .387, and they play six of the last 10 at Progressive Field. The second berth might be theirs to lose, and the Sox wouldn't cry a single tear in seeing Yu Darvish or Derek Holland eliminated before the playoffs even begin.
- Baltimore, 81-70, -1: The Orioles have been mediocre for a month, but here they are on the cusp of a playoff spot -- and reminding the Red Sox again how much Boston would like to avoid seeing Baltimore after the teams face off in the final weekend of the regular season. The O's upcoming trip to Tampa will have a big say in that.
- New York, 80-72, -2.5: The Yankees barely remained on the fringes of contention by snapping a four-game losing streak Wednesday, but here's where they can hang their hope: Including tonight's finale at Toronto, seven of their final 10 are against last-place clubs, and the other three games are head-to-head with the Tampa team they're chasing.
- Kansas City, 80-72, -2.5: The Royals welcome the Rangers this weekend for what are three must-win games, then finish with a road trip through Seattle and Chicago. They need to make up ground on Texas mano a mano in order for those final two series to really matter.
Red Sox' magic number: 3
- Tampa Bay, 83-68, -8: Coolstandings.com says the Rays have less than a 0.1 percent of winning the division, and before anyone sees that through the prism of Lloyd Christmas -- so you're telling me there's a chance -- let's remember that even if the Red Sox lost their last nine regular season games, the Rays would need to go 10-1 to win the division without needing a one-game playoff.
Analysis: Baltimore is not yet technically eliminated, though they're not listed here because they'd need to go unbeaten while the Sox go winless just to force a tiebreaker. The bottom line is that the champagne will pop at some point, probably soon. The guess here is Friday night. And the guess is that the celebration is more behind-the-scenes, but almost every bit as wild and crazy as they were back in the Idiots era.
Red Sox' magic number: 8
- Oakland, 89-63, -2.5: The A's begin a four-game series with the Twins tonight, then finish with a seven-game road trip including visit to the Angels and Mariners. That's three losing teams for the club that's matched the Red Sox' 14-6 record over the past 20 games. Boston's got a cushion, but Oakland is positioned to make a run at the No. 1 seed if the Sox open the door.
- Detroit, 88-64, -3.5: The Tigers' remaining schedule is actually even worse than the Athletics' -- .409 winning percentage, compared to .453 -- with a cake-walk conclusion through Minnesota and Miami. If Detroit keeps its starting pitching lined up and fully functional, and if Miguel Cabrera gets healthier, the Tigers are absolutely capable of leapfrogging both Boston and Oakland.
Analysis: One big thing to keep in mind is tiebreakers. The Sox lost the season series to Detroit, so the Tigers would be the higher seed if they wind up even. Meanwhile, Boston and Oakland split their head-to-head matchups, so the tiebreaker would be intradivision record -- making Boston's seven remaining games with the AL East of the utmost importance because there's practically no difference between the teams to this point. Entering Thursday, the Sox are 40-29 against the East; the A's are 41-29 against the West. Which team winds up better by that measure could well determine who faces the wild-card winner and who faces the loaded Tigers in a best-of-five.
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