Red Sox schedule provides chance to extend AL East lead before break

BOSTON, MA - MAY 17: Xander Bogaerts #2 bumps forearms with Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on May 17, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 17: Xander Bogaerts #2 bumps forearms with Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on May 17, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have an opportunity to extend their lead over the Yankees based on the strength of each team’s schedule before the All-Star break.

The MLB All-Star break is rapidly approaching, providing an arbitrary point on the horizon at which teams tend to evaluate where they are in the standings. The Boston Red Sox enter the day leading the majors with 59 wins and holding a one-game lead over the  New York Yankees in the AL East. That gap will widen before we reach the break.

At least it should, based on each team’s schedule as we close out the unofficial first half of the season.

The Red Sox have 10 games remaining before the break. All against losing teams with a combined .400 winning percentage.

A trio of losing ballclubs

The stretch begins with a trip to Kansas City to face the last-place Royals. Their 25-61 record is the second-worst in the majors. Kansas City has a lower winning percentage at home than they do on the road, so playing away from Fenway Park won’t be much of a disadvantage for the Red Sox.

Boston returns home to wrap up the final seven games before the break, starting with three against the Texas Rangers (39-49). The Red Sox took three out of four when these teams met back in May. Now they’ll square off again at Fenway, where they own a dominant .700 winning percentage.

The Red Sox coast into the break with four games hosting the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Jays aren’t as much of a pushover as the previous two opponents, they have been when it comes to facing the Red Sox. Boston is 7-2 against Toronto this season, including a three-game sweep the last time the Jays visited Fenway.

All three of these teams are shaping up to be trade deadline sellers. It’s conceivable that deals could be made prior to the break that weakens these opponents in time for the Red Sox to face them.

We can’t count on the Red Sox ripping off ten straight wins, which would extend their current streak to 13 dating back to their sweep of the Washington Nationals. Yet would anyone be surprised if they did? The Red Sox are 40-14 against teams .500 or below this season. They are 12-4 against the three teams they’ll face before the break. Considering they are home for seven of the next ten, projecting them to go 8-2 seems conservative.

A steeper climb for the Yankees

The Yankees will be hard-pressed to keep up with that pace. All 11 of their remaining games before the break come on the road. New York remains a strong road team with a .605 winning percentage yet not quite as beastly as they’ve been in the Bronx.

A trip to Toronto doesn’t appear to be too daunting for the Yankees. They are 7-3 this year against the Jays. However, Toronto owns a respectable .500 record at home. The challenge will be a bit steeper for the Yankees than it will be for the Red Sox when they face the same foe.

The road trip continues with a visit to Baltimore to face an Orioles team with the worst record in baseball. You would think the Yankees would beat up on the downtrodden O’s but that hasn’t been the case so far. New York is a mere 3-3 against Baltimore this season. The Yankees can’t take this team for granted.

Now comes the most significant scheduling difference. New York finishes the first half with four games against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians. The Tribe always plays well at Progressive Field and their .675 home winning percentage tops the Yankees’ road percentage.

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Based on how the rotations line up, a battle between Luis Severino and Corey Kluber could open the series in Cleveland. The battle between Cy Young candidates will be entertaining for fans. It’s less than ideal for a Yankees team trying to keep up with Boston to have to face the reigning Cy Young.

We should expect the Yankees to win more than half their games on this road trip. They could get off to a rough start with Sonny Gray taking the mound to open the series in Toronto. The struggling right-hander has given up 10 earned runs over his last two starts, both losses. The Yankees should still be able to take two out of three against the Jays. Don’t expect a sweep in Baltimore given New York’s mediocre results against them. Hand them at least another loss against the O’s. The Yankees should feel satisfied with a split in Cleveland.

Widen the gap

That conservative projection would leave the Yankees with a 7-4 record on the trip. Still great, even better than their overall road winning percentage. Just not as great as what we’re projecting the Red Sox to do with a softer schedule. 11 games is a long time to be on the road so there is the potential for the Yankees to slip a bit more.

That opens up a prime opportunity for the Red Sox to extend their division lead. They are up by one game but down one in the loss column by virtue of having played four more games thus far. That differential will be trimmed to three more games played by the break, barring more rainouts. The Yankees could fall behind in the loss column by then based on these projections.

Next: Three up, three down from June

There’s no guarantee that Boston will continue to beat up on bad teams or that the Yankees will drop a few games on the road. We also still have an entire second half to play after the break. There’s still a long way to go before a division winner can be crowned. Every game counts in a race that could be decided by a razor-thin margin. It’s imperative that the Red Sox take advantage of their schedule when the opportunity presents itself. At least on paper, now is one of those times.