Making the playoffs is quite a bit easier than it was 40 years ago. There are fewer teams to compete against in the AL East. There are more teams in the league, which means more bottom-feeders to beat up on. There’s also the Wild Card, which didn’t exist in 1978 and only included one spot in 2011.
The Seattle Mariners, the top team in the AL currently sitting outside a playoff spot, trail the Red Sox by 14 games in the loss column. That’s a bigger lead than the Red Sox let slip away in ’79 or ’11 but not by much. While MLB.com gives the Red Sox a 100% chance of making the playoffs based on simulations of the remaining schedule, they haven’t mathematically clinched anything yet.
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The remaining schedule won’t be a cakewalk either. Boston still has seven games against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians and three against a reigning World Series champion Houston Astros team leading the AL West. They have a pair of road games against the Philadelphia Phillies and three in Atlanta against the Braves – two teams vying for the NL East division.
Let’s not forget the six games remaining against the Yankees, the last three of which finish off the regular season. It would take only a brief stumble for the Yankees to conceivably climb back in reach of making that final series matter.
That’s 21 of the final 49 games against teams that are likely heading to the postseason. The Red Sox are currently 31-20 against teams at or above .500 this season. That’s the best record in the majors against winning teams yet far below their overall winning percentage.
Boston can maintain their impressive record against winning teams and still lose ground based on a more difficult schedule. Baseball Prospectus projects the Red Sox for a .504 opponent strength on their remaining schedule, which is about average. The Yankees have the second-easiest remaining schedule with a .465 opponent strength. If New York can chip away a few games based on their easier schedule then the six remaining head-to-head games with Boston could make up the remaining difference.