They only have to do what they’ve done all year.
It was an absolutely brutal weekend at Fenway, a fact that no one could reasonably deny. Having won their previous seven games heading into that series, expecting them to extend that streak to 10 was probably far-fetched, but really the goal was to just not get swept. That would have guaranteed an entry into the final week of the regular season with sole possession of the top wildcard spot, a pretty position in which to be sitting, second half woes be damned. Except, we know that didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen in the most brutal of fashions.
And so, coming off that series, it is fair to be feeling down about this team. They have struggled this entire second half against quality teams, but getting swept at home against both their arch rival and the team with whom they were battling for their postseason lives in the biggest series of the year? Well that just hits different. But despite the result, as indefensible as it may be, and despite not having that aforementioned sole possession of the top wildcard spot, the Red Sox still hold their own destiny in their hands.
There’s honestly really not much to it, and the playoff odds back it up pretty nicely. As people are wont to point out, high odds don’t always mean things are sure to work out, which is obviously implied by the odds. If something has, say, a 90 percent chance of happening, we all know that is not the same thing as a 100 percent chance of happening. And to that end, FanGraphs has the Red Sox’ playoff odds at a tidy 87.2 percent. Baseball Prospectus is a bit more bearish, with the odds still coming in at a solid 67.6 percent.
Again, neither of those numbers are zero, but they both paint a pretty good picture — FanGraphs actually has Boston’s adds a tad bit higher than New York’s — and it comes down to the schedule. For the last few weeks we’ve heard about how big the soft schedule at the end is for the Red Sox, and we’re seeing why in realtime. The final two series of the season come against the Orioles and Nationals, teams whose combined winning percentage is .365 and who have two of the four worst records of all teams in baseball over their last 30 games. This should not be much of a challenge at all for the Red Sox.
But the real benefit for the Red Sox schedule is how things shake out for the other main contenders, as the Yankees and Blue Jays play each other for three games up in Toronto starting on Tuesday. Them beating up on each other means the Red Sox have a chance to gain ground on at least one of those teams as long as they take care of their own business. More pointedly, if Boston wins at least two of three from Baltimore, they are guaranteed to gain at least a game over one of the Yankees or Blue Jays, which in turn means they’d be guaranteed to have at least a share of a postseason spot.
And that works out as we drag this out all the way to the end of the season as well. As things stand here on Tuesday morning, if the Red Sox take two of three in each of their last two series — again, a more than reasonable expectation — then they are sitting pretty. In that scenario, the Blue Jays can pull out in front of them, but that would mean the Yankees won at most one game in their series, which means the Red Sox would be tied with at least one of those teams by the end. They could also be tied with the Mariners if Seattle wins out. That would be the worst-case scenario for the Red Sox as long as they win both series.
And if they were able to win at least five of these last six? Well, then there’s no way they’d even need to be in a tiebreaker for a wildcard spot, even in the worst-case scenario. On the flip side, if they were to go 3-3, things still shake out okay for them. That would put them at 91 wins to finish, in which case we’d likely be rooting for the Yankees to take two of three from Toronto. If that were to happen, the Blue Jays would have to sweep their final series to tie Boston. Even if the Blue Jays were to win two of three from New York, they would have to take two of three from Baltimore to end the year to tie. Again, Seattle factors in here as well, and if Boston goes 3-3 they could only lose one game the rest of the way to tie.
So this is what it all comes down to. Boston’s inability to beat good teams is at least mildly concerning for the postseason, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. For the time being, they just need to beat bad teams to make that happen. The good news? Only four teams in baseball have been better against teams with losing records this season. The Red Sox made things harder this weekend than they needed to be, but even with the sweep their destiny still lies in their own hands. It’s just about beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, and the rest will take care of itself.