Red Sox: Clinching postseason berth not enough with AL East title in reach
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox know that their work is far from done after clinching a spot in the postseason by completing a sweep in Baltimore.
Lost in all the excitement surrounding Chris Sale recording his 300th strikeout of the season was another achievement that ultimately is of greater importance. The Boston Red Sox are heading to the postseason.
The celebration had to wait until the early hours of Thursday morning here on the east coast after the Los Angeles Angels fell to the Cleveland Indians to fall 11 games behind Boston in the loss column. This ensures the Red Sox are in no danger of falling behind the first team to miss the playoff cut with ten games remaining on the schedule.
Clinching a spot in the postseason is great, but the Red Sox know they still have work to do. A World Series title is the goal and the odds of reaching it increase significantly if they retain their spot at the top of the AL East. This team wants no part of a Wild Card playoff that boils down to one game to decide the fate of a 162 game season.
"“I think any win this time of the year given where we are in the standings and what is at stake, any win is important,” manager John Farrell told reporters last night, per WEEI.com. “Just getting into the playoffs is not our goal. Certainly it’s a stepping stone toward other things that we have our sights set on, as many teams do. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”"
Boston enters the day holding a three-game lead over the New York Yankees in the division race. The magic number to clinch the division is down to eight, meaning it will take any combination of eight Red Sox wins or Yankees losses to secure the AL East crown.
The Red Sox have an off day on Thursday before heading to Cincinnati for a three-game series against a Reds team sitting in the basement of the NL Central. While the Reds have nothing left to play for at this point, they still own a winning record at home (39-38) and therefore can’t go overlooked.
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That will be followed by a return home to Fenway Park for the final seven games of the regular season, starting with the last place Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox are 12-4 against the Jays this season and that dominance over their division rival should continue next week given what’s on the line.
The regular season wraps up with a four-game set against the Houston Astros. How that series shapes up depends entirely on whether or not Houston has locked up their playoff seeding. As it currently stands, the Astros are only a game behind Cleveland for the league’s top record. If they are still jostling for that spot heading into the final series of the season then Houston will be highly motivated to earn home-field advantage. If they have already clinched home-field or fallen far enough behind the Indians to miss their chance at it by then, Houston is likely to rest key starters in that series.
Boston trails Houston by six games in the loss column. If they can chip away at that gap before they meet in the final series of the season then they could conceivably overtake them for the No. 2 seed. Catching Cleveland would be a pipedream at this point given how they are steamrolling everyone of late but the head-to-head series with Houston sets a realistic scenario where they could gain home-field advantage in the ALDS.
Ideally, the postseason seeding will be decided before the final day of the regular season, allowing the Red Sox to rest Sale. While that extra start to close the schedule would certainly aid his efforts to chase Pedro Martinez‘ single-season franchise strikeout record, being fresh for the postseason is more important. Even more so if Boston’s first-round opponent is the same Astors team they finish the regular season against. Familiarity with a pitcher can breed confidence in hitters, so it’s in Boston’s best interest to avoid letting the Astros see Sale on the mound so soon before meeting them in the postseason.
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Red Sox fans can be comforted in knowing that their team will be playing on the postseason stage for the second consecutive season but let’s keep the champagne on ice for now. Making the playoffs is merely the first step toward bigger goals.