The Magic Number is 4
The Magic Number is 4, not 9.
That is the combined number of Sox wins and Detroit losses needed for Boston to clinch its fourth postseason berth in the last five seasons. That is when the Sox punch their ticket to October, when they get to officially start thinking about their playoff rotation.
There is no question that losing the AL East title to the Yankees over these final 10 games would be a crushing blow to the psyche of Red Sox Nation. Boston hasn't finished on top of the division since 1995, a dozen years of regular-season futility. The closest they came was in 2005, when they finished with 95 wins - the same number of wins as the Yankees. New York won the tiebreaker and was crowned AL East champs.
Do you remember what happened next? The Yankees and Red Sox were both eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Which goes to show you what a piece of the regular-season title gets you.
In fact, over the past five years there has been an incredibly wild run of Wild Card success in Major League Baseball. Since 2002, at least one of the teams playing in the World Series did not win its division. Three of those teams, including the 2004 Boston Red Sox, went from Wild Card to World Champions.
The Sox woke up this morning with their slimest lead since April. Still, it is not time to yell "May Day" just yet. The Magic Number is 4. Make no mistake, the Sox will celebrate when they've clinched a postseason berth, even if they haven't nailed down the division title yet. They will try to beat out the Yankees, but they won't blow out their staff to do it. It's all about making the playoffs... and the Sox are still in very good shape to do that.
Having lost four of their last five games, the Sox need to start playing better baseball if they want to play deep into October. They'll need Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis back in the lineup, and another solid start from Daisuke Matsuzaka this weekend.
But to play deep into October, you need to make it to October. And the magic number to do that is 4. Not 9.