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Peter Abraham

Facing tough schedule, Red Sox enter second half with focus on AL East title

The Red Sox need late-inning bullpen depth given the sharp downturn Joe Kelly has taken. file/Jim Davis/Globe staff

DETROIT — The 68-30 Red Sox can win half their remaining games and still win 100 games. What a thing. They haven’t won that many since 1946.

But the math is almost meaningless as the Sox restart their season on Friday night in Detroit. All that matters now is finishing ahead of the Yankees and dodging the one-game wild card. That will almost certainly require winning more than 100 games.

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is real again, a reminder of the yearly battles at the turn of the century. No hype is needed beyond looking at the standings and understanding what’s at stake.


The Sox have a 4½-game lead on the Yankees. Winning the American League East means extra time off at the end of the season and likely home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The rotation can be set and the bullpen rested.

Finishing second takes away all those advantages. Even if the Sox survive the wild-card game, it would mean a quick turnaround to face the best team in the league on the road. That could well be the Yankees.

“Everybody says it gets real in September. But we know where the Yankees are now and they know where we are,” Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez said. “It should be fun.”

The Sox have 10 games remaining against the Yankees, the most against any opponent. Seven of those games will be at Fenway Park, including the final three of the season.

That’s an advantage. They also play only four more games outside the Eastern Time Zone, another advantage.

But the Yankees have a walkover schedule. They play 41 of their remaining 67 games against teams with a losing record, including a whopping 20 games against teams in last place in their respective divisions.

The Sox have 10 games remaining against the West Division-leading Houston Astros (three) and Central Division-leading Cleveland Indians (seven). The Yankees are finished with those teams.


The Indians significantly improved their roster on Thursday by acquiring All-Star lefthander Brad Hand and righthander Adam Cimber from the San Diego Padres to improve their bullpen.

Hand had a 1.08 WHIP and averaged 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings for the Padres. Cimber, a rookie with a side-arm delivery, has been an effective setup man for Hand, who has 24 saves. Righthanded hitters have a .482 OPS against him.

The Indians gave up 22-year-old catcher Francisco Mejia, one of the game’s top prospects.

In reshaping their bullpen, the Indians are preparing for the postseason and were willing to pay a steep price. Hand gives them a ninth-inning option to supplement if not replace Cody Allen. If Andrew Miller returns healthy, manager Terry Francona can control games with his relievers.

The Red Sox have All-Star Craig Kimbrel to close. But they need late-inning depth given the sharp downturn Joe Kelly has taken.

A dominant reliever in April and May, Kelly has allowed 14 earned runs on 17 hits and nine walks in 13⅔ innings since June 1. Opponents have hit .293 against him with a .932 OPS.

Manager Alex Cora has continued to use Kelly in high-leverage situations, a practice he may have to pull back on if the righthander continues to struggle.

Matt Barnes has so far had the best season of his career and merits having eighth-inning responsibilities. But he wore down in August last season.


If Eduardo Rodriguez were able to return from a badly sprained right ankle, using him as a reliever would make sense. The Sox took that route last September when David Price came back from arm trouble and it produced excellent results.

But the Sox cannot count on Rodriguez coming back; so external help will be the focus. Baltimore lefthander Zach Britton and White Sox righthander Joakim Soria are obvious possibilities. But Toronto also has options in Tyler Clippard and Seunghwan Oh.

A fallow farm system will not prohibit the Red Sox from adding to their bullpen as setup men can be had for lesser prospects. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski obtained Brad Ziegler (2016) and Addison Reed (2017) without losing prominent players.

Rotation depth could be solved by the return of Drew Pomeranz from the disabled list. The lefthander looks ready after a strong start for Triple A Pawtucket on Wednesday.

The Sox also could consider bench upgrades at catcher and second base. But clearly improved relief pitching is what would best prepare them for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.

“We’ve made moves before,” right hander Mookie Betts said. “This is the time of the year you’re waiting to see what will happen. All we can do is play.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.