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Red Sox’ record against AL East foes isn’t just bad — it could be historically bad

The Red Sox just got swept in Tampa Bay, dropping them to 4-12 against the Rays this season.Mike Carlson/Associated Press

An unflattering form of history is well within reach for the 2022 Red Sox.

Mercifully, the Red Sox left Tropicana Field for the final time this season Wednesday night, once again swept by the Rays. The 1-0 defeat ran their losing streak in the Trop to nine games — the longest by any visiting team in a season in the 25-year history of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay — and further cemented their status as American League East roadkill.

The Red Sox are 18-39 against AL East opponents, a .316 winning percentage that would be far and away their worst in the division since its formation in 1969. The current standard for futility — and the only time they had a sub-.400 record in division play over a full season — is 26-46 (.361) by the yearlong dumpster fire that was the 2012 team under Bobby Valentine.

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The Red Sox have to go at least 10-9 over their remaining 19 games against the AL East to ensure that they don’t set a new unsavory mark.

(The Sox went 14-26 against the AL East during the pandemic-compressed 2020 campaign, a .350 winning percentage. They have to go at least 9-10 to surpass that.)

The .316 would be tied with the 2019 Orioles for the eighth-worst in-division mark by an AL East team in a full season.

Worst in-division records by AL East teams, 1969-2022 (minimum 50 games)
Team AL East record Win percentage Overall record Win percentage
1987 Orioles 18-60 .231 67-95 .414
2021 Orioles 20-56 .263 52-110 .321
1996 Tigers 14-38 .269 53-109 .327
1979 Blue Jays 22-56 .282 53-109 .327
2018 Orioles 23-53 .303 47-115 .290
2008 Orioles 22-50 .306 68-93 .422
1978 Blue Jays 28-61 .315 59-102 .366
2019 Orioles 24-52 .316 54-108 .333
2022 Red Sox 18-39 .316 67-71 .486
1975 Tigers 28-60 .318 57-102 .358
1988 Orioles 25-53 .321 54-107 .335
2009 Orioles 24-48 .333 64-98 .395
2010 Orioles 24-48 .333 66-96 .407
2002 Devil Rays 25-50 .333 55-106 .342
SOURCE: STATS

The struggles in the division are peculiar given how dominant they have been when facing AL Central, AL West, and National League opponents. The Sox have a lopsided 49-32 record (.605) when not playing their chief rivals, an almost unheard-of disparity.

Typically, teams that are bad within their division remain bad outside of it. Of the 13 full-season AL East teams to lose at least two out of three games (.333 winning percentage or worse) in divisional competition, all 13 finished with at least 93 losses. Nine finished with at least 100, and seven had at least 105.

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There’s only one comparable instance of a team struggling so desperately within the division while thriving outside of it. In 1987, the Orioles went 18-60 (.231) against the AL East — the worst record to date — and 49-35 (.583) against a weak AL West (won by the Twins at 85-77).

So what gives?

“There have been games that are out of hand, but we haven’t been able to finish games,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora on Wednesday. “Obviously, the record is the record. We haven’t won too many series against the East.

“But if you look at the game [Wednesday], we were right there, but at the end, you have to have more runs than the opposition, and we haven’t done that.”

Alex Cora and the Red Sox were swept out of St. Pete by the Rays this week.Mike Carlson/Associated Press

While Cora’s concern about the inability to win close games has some basis, it’s not the primary driver for the struggles. After all, the Sox have a better record in close games against the AL East — 11-18 (.379) in games decided by two or fewer runs, and 9-15 (.375) in one-run games — than they do overall in the division. Mostly, they have simply been flattened, going 7-21 in games decided by three or more runs.

It’s hard to pin blame on one particular area of the roster. The Sox are averaging just 3.81 runs per game against the AL East (down from 5.02 outside the division) while hitting .250/.302/.395 (down from .264/.331/.421). The pitching staff and defense have permitted a jarring 5.77 runs per game in the division, compared with a respectable 4.21 outside of it.

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So again: What gives?

Certainly, the AL East is loaded — a notion borne out by the division’s .586 winning percentage when playing other opponents. There’s a reason why it seems likely to send three teams to the playoffs, with a chance the Orioles could join the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays.

And with that acknowledgement of the present comes a formidable if not daunting reality: The division isn’t going anywhere. The Orioles’ rebuild has yielded a core that appears ready to compete for several years; the Rays perennially forge a pitching staff that gives opponents fits; the Blue Jays have star-level talent across the roster; and the Yankees are nearly 30 years into a run of constant contention.

That said, the schedule will become less imbalanced starting in 2023. The Sox will play 56 games against the AL East rather than 76.

“One year late, I guess,” Cora joked last month when the schedule was announced.

All the same, to truly contend again, the Red Sox will have to be competitive in games against their chief foes. Just one aspect of needed repair heading toward a monumental offseason.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.