Ordinarily, the conclusion of a stretch of 16 games that featured 14 against AL East opponents would be viewed as a potential derailment. But for the 2018 Red Sox, a cluster of games inside their division represented an opportunity rather than a threat.
This weekend’s three-game series against the Rays will conclude what has been something of a round-robin against division opponents, with the Red Sox having faced the Yankees (four games), Blue Jays (three), and Orioles (four) before a brief two-game diversion against the Phillies. They conclude the gauntlet with three games against Tampa Bay.
In contrast to past years, when a team would hope to keep its head above water against competitive AL East foes, the opportunity to face divisional opponents this year has represented a chance for the Red Sox to gain separation. They are 11-1 against AL East teams this month, continuing a year-long mauling of their chief rivals that has no precedent since the introduction of the divisional structure in 1969.
The Red Sox are currently 44-15 against their most direct competition, good for a staggering .746 winning percentage that would shatter the previous standard for the best record by an AL East team against AL East opponents.
The 1998 Yankees — authors of a memorable 114-win championship season — went 33-15 against AL East competition, at a time when the schedule was still balanced across divisional opponents.
If the Red Sox go 9-8 or better in their remaining 17 contests against the AL East, they’ll lay claim to the greatest intradivisional record in 50 years of division play.
The impact of such dominance is fairly obvious. Certainly, the Sox have excelled outside of the division as well, forging a 43-21 record (.672) against the AL Central and West and in interleague play. The Yankees, however, have a 48-20 record (.708) outside the division — better than the Sox. The Red Sox’ comfortable standing is largely a product of their dominance against the AL East, a stark contrast to the Yankees’ 28-26 mark in the division.
While it’s easy to suggest that the Sox’ record is a product of a downward swing for the division, only the Orioles represent a true doormat (their ghastly .295 winning percentage marks the first time that any AL East team has been below .400 since 2009). The Rays have two more wins than losses; outside of a 4-10 record against the Sox, they’d have a 58-50 record. The Blue Jays aren’t good (55-67), but their performance isn’t outside the normal range of teams near the bottom of the division.
The Sox have done their greatest damage in those series where they’ve had a chance to most directly shape their divisional fortunes. Their unmatched success to date within the AL East has played an enormous role in the broader march toward a potentially historic regular season.