Despite the ugly three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Red Sox still sit in a solid position to grab a second wild-card spot.
The team enters its final six games – all on the road against two last-place teams in Baltimore and Washington – in possession of a postseason berth. Meanwhile, the Yankees (one game ahead of the Sox) and Blue Jays (one game behind) will butt heads over the next three days, guaranteeing at least two losses for one of those teams.
The standings and schedule help to explain why Fangraphs pegs the Sox as having an 87.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
“If the season ended today we’d be in,” said reliever Adam Ottavino. “All we have to do is take care of our job against Baltimore and Washington and see where that leaves us.”
Yet the team’s gutting string of losses over the weekend to a fellow contender nonetheless left a giant question hovering over the Red Sox: Would the Wild Card merely represent the start of a road to nowhere?
The second half has been a tale of haves and have-nots for the Red Sox. The team has steamrolled lesser competition and been flattened by contenders.
The Sox have won seven of eight series since the All-Star break against teams that currently have losing records, going 17-6 in those contests. They’ve handily dispatched the teams that they should crush, something that augurs well for a season-ending road trip to face the Orioles (50-106) and Nationals (64-92).
But faced with a higher degree of difficulty, the Sox have gone from steamroller to steamrollee. They’re 16-26 since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, including 6-20 against the Yankees (0-6), Blue Jays (1-3), Rays (4-9), and White Sox (1-2) since the July 30 trade deadline.
In those eight series since the deadline against two division leaders and the team’s two chief competitors for the wild card, the Red Sox are 0-7-1. (The four-game split against the Rays amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in early September represents the one series the team hasn’t lost.) Obviously, such a consistent lack of success against top competition bodes poorly for the team’s chances of advancing deep into October.
The performance gap between what the team has done against top competition and doormats is jarring. The pitching staff has proven adequate in the second half against teams with losing records (4.02 ERA) but atrocious against its three top A.L. East competitors and the White Sox (5.65 ERA).
|Pitching||vs. Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox||vs. sub-.500 teams|
Likewise, the offense has gone from juggernaut status (.295/.374/.554) against sub-.500 teams – essentially, a combination of the average and on-base skill of Xander Bogaerts and the power of Rafael Devers – to meager against its top-four opponents. The combined Sox line of .255/.322/.385 against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, and White Sox is roughly the full-team equivalent of what catcher Christian Vázquez has done this year (.259/.311/.351).
|Offense||vs. Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox||vs. sub-.500 teams|
Through all of that, it’s still not difficult to imagine the Red Sox reaching the playoffs and perhaps even advancing past the wild card round. But down the stretch, the more the Red Sox have faced good teams, the more their flaws have been exposed, in a way that explains why the team would be a massive underdog in any postseason series.
Orioles ace John Means pitched Sunday, and so the Red Sox will miss him during the three-game set in Baltimore. The team will instead face rookie lefties Bruce Zimmermann (4-4, 4.83), Zac Lowther (1-2, 7.66), and Alexander Wells (1-3, 7.61).
In 11 games against lefthanded starters in September, the Red Sox are 7-4 while averaging 6.0 runs per game. They’re hitting .287/.349/.430 against southpaws in September. That performance reflects in no small part the brilliance of Bobby Dalbec against lefties this month.
Dalbec is hitting .385/.448/.962 with four homers in 29 plate appearances against lefthanded pitchers this month. However, he’s coming off a series against the Yankees in which he went 1-for-9 with seven strikeouts. The one hit was a homer off Aroldis Chapman…
The Red Sox will counter the Orioles with Chris Sale (5-0, 2.57) on Tuesday, Nate Eovaldi (10-9, 3.88) on Wednesday, and likely Nick Pivetta (9-7, 4.52) on Thursday.…
The Yankees’ four-run, game-winning rally Sunday night against the Red Sox came with controversy, given that the go-ahead, two-run double came after Aaron Judge had seemingly struck out on a foul tip. Home plate umpire Joe West ruled that catcher Christian Vázquez – who clearly caught the ball, then fumbled it while transferring the ball from his mitt to his throwing hand – had dropped the foul tip, extending the at-bat for Judge.
A league source confirmed that the play was not reviewable. Catch/no-catch rulings in the infield are not subject to review by instant replay.
PLAYOFF TICKETS ON SALE
The Red Sox announced that tickets for potential Wild Card and Division Series games at Fenway Park will go on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m. on redsox.com. … While MLB rules permit teams to wear alternate uniforms on the road, the Red Sox did not take their yellow-and-blue City Connect uniforms on the road trip to Baltimore and Washington. The team will wear its more familiar grays and blues.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.