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Alex Speier

Red Sox’ postseason hopes face long odds

The Red Sox aren’t a horrendous team to date – they’ve merely been disappointing.
The Red Sox aren’t a horrendous team to date – they’ve merely been disappointing.(Getty Images)

It’s played out for what seems like an eternity. The Red Sox’ 21-24 march to mediocrity has continued uninterrupted since the first week of the season, the team unable to amass as many as three consecutive wins since the season-opening week on the road.

So what does that mean? What happens to teams that fail to find their footing – or the .500 mark – through 45 games of the season?

Historically, it’s been a tough slog for teams that fail to reside at (or above) the break-even point at this stage of the season. Through the magic of Baseball-Reference.com, it’s possible to examine the frequency with which teams that found themselves on the wrong side of .500 through 45 games, dating to 1914, have made the playoffs.

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Overall, it’s not a very hopeful group for the 2015 Red Sox. From 1914 through 2014, of the 1,058 teams that were below .500 through 45 games, just 47 (4.4 percent) – or about one out of every 23 – has reached the postseason.

But those ominous odds come with a number of caveats: The majority of the seasons examined featured just two postseason participants (with a 1-in-8 chance of making the playoffs), as opposed to the current system of three rounds and 10 playoff participants, which present teams with a 1-in-3 chance of playing in October.

Consider: Prior to the advent of the wild card round, through 1995, just 19 teams with a sub-.500 record through 45 games reached the postseason in 70 postseasons. From 1995 through 2014, 28 teams with sub-.500 records through 44 games reached the postseason in a 20-year timeframe – or 9.7 percent of all teams with a sub-.500 record through 44 games.

Yet the Sox aren’t a horrendous team to date – they’ve merely been disappointing. They have a losing record but their .467 winning percentage is within whiffing distance of break-even.

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If one examines only teams with winning percentages between .400-.499 through 45 games – meaning teams that won 18 to 22 of their first 45 games – the odds become more favorable, even if not exactly robust. Since 1914, 44 (5.5 percent) of all teams that had sub-.500 records through 45 games reached the playoffs. And under the expanded playoff format, dating to 1995, 27 of the 213 teams (12.7 percent) that opened the year with 18 to 22 wins in their first 25 contests ended up reaching the postseason.

Slightly more than a quarter of the season is in the rearview mirror, with a lot of road ahead. The history of the wild card round suggests that the Sox, even through their unimpressive early play, have about a 1-in-8 chance of reaching the postseason – and even that is likely a bit light, since a) the wild card format has expanded from eight teams to include 10 entrants starting in 2012 and b) the American League East has yet to produce any team capable of pulling away from the pack.

Still, the fact that the Sox are clinging to 1-in-8 odds rather than pulling away from the mediocrity that characterizes the division underscores how poorly they’ve played, and the cost of doing so.

Will the Red Sox make the playoffs?
Historically, it has been a tough slog for teams below .500 at this stage of the season
1914-2014* 1995-2014
Total teams 2156 594
Made playoffs 380 (17.6%) 166 (27.9%)
Total playoff teams 380 166
Under .500 through 45 Gs 47 (12.4%) 28 (16.9%)
Total teams < .500 through 45 Gs 1058 290
Made playoffs 47 (4.4%) 28 (9.7%)
Teams > .400 and < .500 through 45 Gs 793 213
Made playoffs 44 (5.5%) 27 (12.7%)
* - Does not include 1994 strike
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference.com

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