Division hangs in balance
This is where the AL East is won. There are four weeks left in the baseball season. Twenty-five games. The final sprint in a six-month long marathon.
With all due respect to the 2006 Blue Jays, the division has essentially been a two-horse race since the turn of the millenium. While the Sox haven't won it in the past 12 years, they have knocked on the door (actually tying the Yankees in 2005 with 95 wins.)
What we've learned in that time is that the division isn't won in the 18 or 19 games played between the two teams. This year, the Sox trail the Yankees 8-7 through 15 games. Since the start of 2002 New York leads the series 64-60 (including playoffs.)
Do the math. If the two teams are going to split just about all of their games, they'd better do well against the rest of the division and the rest of baseball. And that's exactly what the Sox and Yankees are trying to do right now.
By taking two of three from the Orioles, the Sox rebounded nicely from the three-game debacle at Yankee Stadium. They also added a game to their division lead when New York dropped two of three to Tampa Bay.
The Orioles appear to have given up the battle. They've lost 11 of the last 12 games, getting no hit by Clay Buchholz in one of those games and giving up a record 30 runs in another.
The same cannot be said for the other teams in the AL East. Toronoto has won seven of its last 10, and is coming off a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners (who are still hoping to edge the Yankees in the Wild Card race.)
Over the next three days, the Sox will face a Blue Jays team that is fighting to the end. Tonight, they'll face former Devil Rays clubhouse boy Jesse Litsch, who outpitched Josh Beckett in a 2-1 thriller back in July. Tomorrow night it will be ace vs. ace as Beckett goes up against Red Sox nemesis Roy Halladay. They'll wrap up the series against up-and-comer Shaun Marcum, who has won seven of eight.
There are three more with Toronto north of the border in two weeks. There are also six games with the Devil Rays... one of the hottest teams in baseball. That's right. The D-Rays have won eight of 10 -- no one has a better record in that span.
Yes, there are three to go with New York. Yes, we're keeping Joba Chamberlain's throws at Kevin Youkilis in mind and we're ready to welcome him to Fenway Park. Just remember, that weekend will probably not be where this thing is decided. It will be decided on nights like tonight, when Daisuke Matsuzaka tries to pitch his team to a win for the first time in his last four starts.