Clinching a spot in the postseason is only the first step for a Boston Red Sox team that has much loftier goals in mind for 2018.
The celebration was relatively mild in the aftermath of Tuesday’s win over the Toronto Blue Jays. The 99th win of the season clinched a playoff spot for the Boston Red Sox yet there was no spraying of champaign. Players made a toast to their achievement but tempered their excitement over what has seemed inevitable for weeks.
The Red Sox will play ball in October but qualifying for the postseason isn’t enough for a team with championship aspirations. You can’t win the trophy unless you get invited to the dance so securing a playoff berth is a vital first step. There’s still a long way to go.
Boston has qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive season, matching the longest streak in franchise history. They last went to the playoffs three years in a row from 2007-2009 and also did it from 2003-2005. Each of those prior streaks included a World Series title (2004, 2007). The Red Sox intend to repeat that trend after falling short in the ALDS the last two seasons.
The odds of winning a title increase greatly by avoiding the do-or-die Wild Card game. So far, the Red Sox have only assured themselves of participating in this one-game playoff series in a worst-case scenario. The Oakland A’s currently hold the second Wild Card spot. The magic number for the Red Sox to ensure a potential Wild Card game would be held at Fenway Park is down to seven.
Boston wants no part in the uncertainty of the Wild Card game, making the division title a priority. The Red Sox are seeking their third consecutive AL East division title for the first time in franchise history. The magic number to win the division is down to nine. Any combination of nine Red Sox wins or New York Yankees losses will clinch the division.
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The path through the postseason would be easier with home-field advantage on their side. The magic number to secure home-field in the American League is 10. The Houston Astros have the next best record in the league at 91-54. They beat the Boston in last year’s postseason when they had home-field advantage on their side. If Boston hopes to beat Houston this time they could use that edge themselves.
If the Red Sox make it to the World Series they will almost certainly have home-field advantage. The Chicago Cubs currently own the best record in the National League at 84-60. Boston’s magic number to secure a better record than any NL team is down to four.
The 99 wins in the bank are the most by a Red Sox team since 1978. They are one win away from reaching the century mark for only the fourth time in franchise history. The club record of 105 wins hangs within arms reach with 17 games left to play. Boston could go 7-10 down the stretch and still break their previous record.
Of the three prior instances where the Red Sox topped 100 wins, they won the World Series in two of those seasons (1912, 1915). Anything short of adding a third season to that list would be considered a disappointment.
Boston is back in the postseason and we should be excited about what this team can achieve. However, they haven’t won anything yet so let’s keep the champagne on ice for now.