Say, hey. Two in a row. Pennant fever grips Hub.
Let's slow down a bit, shall we? Getting everybody back into the Red Sox lineup is nice. Back-to-back wins behind impressive pitching against one of baseball's top offenses is certainly encouraging. But playoffs? That's the Rainbow Connection. Let's not lament David Wells getting away just yet, OK?
Despite being on the verge of sweeping the White Sox, one of their direct competitors for this year's wild card slot, the Red Sox face just a 1.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to coolstandings.com. That's up from the 0.9 percent chance they faced just two days ago, but still an insurmountable task for a club that is just getting most of its regulars back.
But -- and God bless them, right? -- hope springs eternal within the hearts of some. No matter that the Red Sox have a patchwork quilt of a starting staff right now. Julian Tavarez and Kason Gabbard are pitching like All-Stars. And now, with Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and David Ortiz back, the lineup is healthy for the first time in more than a month. And in some minds, that combined with the events of the last two nights at Fenway has all overshadowed the dreary aspects of the team. Jon Lester's illness, Curt Schilling's muscle, Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder. They're all secondary, I suppose, after back-to-back wins over the defending champs.
Call that what you want: Unrealistic, dreamy, faithful, or downright delusional.
Some of the comments this morning from the Boston.com message boards:
I am totally holding out hope for a playoff spot. Everyone forgets the miracle comeback to beat the expected to win World series NY Yankees. There is still a chance, it ain't ova till its ova. The sox need to get very consistent pitching and strong hitting from out massive lineup, once that happens we can take on the world not just the Yankees.
Hope! Red Sox Hope is what being a sox fan is all about, there are too many variables to totally eliminate the Sox from a playoff spot. NYY are falling apart as the sox regroup with the loss of players from injuries are returning. Has everyone forgotten that the BoSox play their very best when under the gun, we are at our very best moral, and player wise at this very moment...not only do I have hope I know without one doubt we are going and will snatch the AL East pennant! "Let's Go RED SOX!"
Never gave up hope!! They had the third best record in baseball at the break!! They can play but there aren't a lot of games left. I will not concede until they are mathematically eliminated. I live in New York and have been a BoSox fan still 1974. My family is from SpringField, Mass and I was born and breed a Red Sox Fan. The fire is still burning in these prideful players and I am right behind them all the way!!! GO RED SOX!!!
By beating the White Sox, that is bringing us closer to the twins.
Actually, that last one couldn't be more wrong. The Red Sox are bringing the White Sox closer to them by beating them, but neither is actually gaining any ground on the Twins.
As another, more realistic message board poster pointed out, the Red Sox are actually in worse shape today than they were yesterday morning, despite their 1-0 win over Chicago last night at the Fens. While the White Sox lost ground in their chase for the wild card (and gained none in the pursuit of the Tigers for the AL central crown), the Twins extended their wild card lead to 1 ½ with an 8-0 win over Tampa Bay, and moved within 4 of the Tigers. Before all is said and done, don't be surprised if the White Sox are battling the Tigers for the final playoff spot.
Since June 11, the Twins have gone a remarkable 52-23, while the Tigers, struggling as of late, have gone 45-31. Boston is a dead-even 39-39 in that timeframe, which includes the bulk of its 16-2 run against the National League. The Yankees have gone 45-28, while Chicago is just a bit better than Boston at 38-34.
While the Tigers have been baseball's best story this season, no American League team has been better than the Minnesota Twins, a streak they might take all the way to the division and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. And after they try to finish up their 15th straight triumph over the Devil Rays tonight, it sets up a hugely intriguing four-game series in Minnesota against the Tigers, a set Red Sox fans -- or at least the ones still holding out hope -- will want to keep an eye on.
Because if the Twins do overtake the Tigers for the division, it makes Boston's three-game series with them a little less significant later this month. Beating the Twins head-to-head will no longer directly help Boston in its playoff hunt. And the Red Sox don't face the White Sox or Tigers again this season.
Minnesota, armed with likely Cy Young winner Johan Santana (17-5), who is now 8-0 since the All-Star break, may be ready to go on a run here, winning at the most opportune time possible this week. As if all that weren't enough, Francisco Liriano is due back in a matter of days, displaying no throwing problems in his side session yesterday.
Just 25 games remain for both Boston and Minnesota this season. Even if we can assume Minnesota to struggle down the stretch, going 13-12 in those games, the Red Sox would need to finish 18-5, and that's assuming the Twins don't take over the Tigers. To finish with the magic 95 wins everyone assumed it would take for wild card consideration, Boston needs to go 20-3 with showdowns in the Bronx, Toronto, and against Tampa Bay still on tap, teams the Sox are just a combined 20-27 against this season.
A six-game lead isn't exactly insurmountable by any means. However, when you consider that the Sox face the task of having to leapfrog two different clubs to take the wild card lead, it's a bit of a stretch. Despite the returns of Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon to the lineup, let's not overlook the fact that the Sox scored a grand total of three runs in the past two games. In fact, five of the seven wins they have since sweeping the Orioles early last month have been by a single run.
The real diehards are looking for the Sox to cut the AL East lead next weekend when Boston, eight games back in the AL East, will no doubt sweep the four-game series against the Yankees and get right back into the hunt.
The reality is, as much of a long shot as that would appear to be, it might be more realistic than what they face in a more congested wild card race. In the end, making the playoffs is no more than a pipe dream. Helping the Twins get there is something else entirely.