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Reassessing our Red Sox playoff expectations: Take 2

Posted by Adam Kaufman  September 3, 2013 08:35 AM

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The Red Sox are going to make the playoffs this year to mark their first postseason appearance since 2009.

There, reassessed.

Now that the waiver trade deadline has passed and teams can no longer deal with the clubs preparing to close up shop for the winter, it’s time to take this discussion a step further:

When I last assessed the Red Sox’ playoff chances, it was immediately in the wake of baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline. They were a first-place ballclub by a mere half-game. Things have certainly changed.

This year won’t feature a mighty collapse like the 7-20 September we witnessed in 2011, or a miserable finish where an unhappy club mails it in, a la the 7-22 conclusion to 2012.

With the best record in the American League and the third-best in all of baseball, this never-say-die, play-until-the-final-out, fat-lady-hasn’t-sung-yet, fans-shouldn’t-leave-their-seats squad holds a 5˝ game advantage on the Rays in the division.

The race is over. The Red Sox will win the AL East, something they haven’t done since capturing the World Series in 2007 and a feat they’ve achieved just twice dating back to 1990. If you don’t want to take my word for it, Baseball Prospectus says there’s a 93.1 percent chance.

Boston’s remaining 23 games admittedly present a challenge with 18 contests against playoff-hopeful squads from Detroit, New York, Tampa, and Baltimore, along with nearly-eliminated Toronto and Colorado, against all of whom the Sox are 35-29 this year. Even a slightly sub-par month should get the job done, not that a struggle's expected. The club has played .500-or-better baseball every single month of the season. Recently, it’s won 7 of 9.

There’s no one player to thank, even if Koji Uehara could make quite the case. The team scores at will – ranking second in the majors with 698 runs – and the starting pitching has been dominant, particularly of late. Boston’s hurlers, relievers included, have allowed 3 runs or fewer in 12 of the last 13 games for a 2.41 ERA.

Add to that, the team is getting healthier (Clay Buchholz is rehabbing, plus Matt Thornton, David Ross, and Franklin Morales have already returned) and its reinforcements (Jake Peavy, Will Middlebrooks, and Xander Bogaerts) have proven invaluable. Peavy is 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA in six starts since his non-waiver trade deadline addition. Middlebrooks, after a trying start to the year and significant time in the minors, is batting .323 with 5 extra-base hits, 7 RBI, 10 runs scored, and an .871 OPS in 19 games dating back to his call-up. And the highly-touted Bogaerts is hitting .316 with a .718 OPS in his first eight career major league contests.

My only complaint would be the Sox not locating righthanded reliever help for the duration, but that is more of an October concern at this point.

For the Red Sox to the blow the division – and it would be a collapse if it happened – they would have to be overtaken by a struggling Rays team that went an otherworldly 21-5 in July, but is just 11-17 since and can’t hit (19 runs scored over its last nine games). Matt Moore, though he’s due back, has missed significant time to an elbow injury, and prized reliever Jesse Crain has yet to make his Tampa debut because of his ailing shoulder. In order to go on any sort of run, the Rays will have to be carried by their pitchers, a group of men that has a 4.29 ERA since Aug. 1 following a 2.54 ERA the month prior.

Time now to look at both the Red Sox’ and Rays’ remaining weighted schedules, which will again factor in every individual match-up rather than overall team records averaged together. The Sox have the more daunting road, but their present cushion and depth should off-set that as it relates to the Rays – losers of five straight – making up ground.

  • Boston (82-57) opponents have a .525 winning percentage. Of the Sox’ 23 remaining contests, 13 are against the Yankees (7) and Orioles (6).
  • Tampa Bay (75-61, 2nd Wild Card) will face opponents with a winning percentage of .511. The Rays still have eight different teams to face, including four vying for playoff berths.

Overall AL Playoff Picture

Jose Iglesias and the Central-leading Tigers (81-57) are comfortably ahead of the Indians by 8˝ games.

The Athletics and Rangers are tied atop the West, with the latter leading the Wild Card race.

The Rays presently hold the other Wild Card spot, though the Orioles, Yankees, Indians and Royals are all within 4˝ games of that final slot with nearly a month to go.

Playing the odds and omitting Cleveland and Kansas City, here’s a look at the other weighted schedules:

  • Oakland (79-58, West leader) has an easy slate, save for five meetings with Texas. The A’s will face opponents with a .459 winning percentage. A total of 20 games will be against teams with losing records.
  • Texas (79-58, 1st Wild Card) has a more challenging path, including seven match-ups with the better-to-win-late-than-never LA Angels. The winning percentage for Rangers’ opponents stands at .506. It’s important to remember, too, that Nelson Cruz’s PED-forced absence will continue to be felt, despite the addition of Alex Rios.
  • Baltimore (73-63, 2 games out of playoff spot) will exclusively play opponents in the AL East and Central with a combined .512 winning percentage, including six games apiece with Boston and Toronto. The Orioles’ late-season pitching support of Bud Norris, Scott Feldman, and Francisco Rodriguez has done little so far to improve their playoff hopes.
  • New York (73-64, 2˝ games out of playoff spot) has seven match-ups remaining against archrival Boston. In all, Yankees opponents have a .498 winning percentage. I’d counted this team out at last blush a month ago, but perhaps it was premature to discount a group with an Alfonso Soriano who’s found the Fountain of Youth, plus pseudo-deadline acquisitions Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter.

Predictions

I’m sticking, verbatim, with what I wrote one month ago:

The Red Sox will win the East, the Tigers will claim the Central, and the Athletics will win the West, with the Rays and Rangers advancing as Wild Card entrants. The Rays will then take the Wild Card playoff, before the Tigers ultimately return to the World Series after a championship series win over the Sox.

We’ll get to the full playoff preview come Oct. 1. We may as well let the facts play out first.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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