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Wild card is still there for Red Sox to seize

The Red Sox haven’t yet played their way out of playoff contention.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Red Sox haven’t yet played their way out of playoff contention.

As of Tuesday morning, the Tigers (59-50) and Angels (59-51) led the American League wild-card race with the Athletics (58-51) and Orioles (58-51) right behind. Then came the Rays (56-52).

The Red Sox (55-55) were four games behind the Angels and while that doesn’t seem like a lot with 52 games left to play, the problem is passing four other teams.

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But there is a little good news. The Sox have six games left against the Angels, three with the Athletics, nine with the Orioles and six against the Rays. So they can directly do some damage to those teams ahead of them.

Some other good news: The Sox have six off days remaining this season. That could allow them to manipulate their rotation to get the maximum out of guys like Clay Buchholz and, presumably, Jon Lester. It also could allow them to put Aaron Cook in the best position to succeed.

The other shred of optimism comes in the impending return of Andrew Bailey. With Vicente Padilla starting to look a little worn down, Bailey could become a key late-inning reliever for the Red Sox. Let’s not forget, this is a two-time All-Star who was obtained to be their closer.

A fresh Bailey can make the bullpen that much more effective and allow Bobby Valentine to rest guys who have carried a heavy load this season.

Is it realistic that the .500 Red Sox will suddenly climb through the standings? Of course not. But the opportunity is still there.

It would be ironic. In 2011 the Red Sox were terrific all season and lousy at the end. Maybe in 2012 they will be lousy all season and terrific at the end.

After watching what happened last season, you can’t say it’s impossible.

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