Red Sox: Boston can’t afford to stumble as their playoff push begins
The Red Sox can’t afford to let up in the second half
The 2021 All-Star game went in favor of the American League for the 8th consecutive time and Red Sox stars left their mark on the Midsummer Classic. The three hitters (J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Xander Bogaerts) combined for 3 hits and 1 RBI while the two pitchers (Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Barnes) totaled 2.0 innings of work and 0 earned runs. The All-Star break is short-lived and with the ASG in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get back to work.
The Red Sox entered the All-Star break with a 55-36 record, tied for the most wins in the American League. Boston currently holds the division lead by 1.5 games over Tampa Bay while the other AL East rivals are on the outside looking in with Toronto and New York tied at 8 games out of first place.
Baltimore has taken up residence in the basement, a full 26 games out of first place and the second-worst record in baseball. The Orioles are out of contention, but the Rays, Yankees, and Blue Jays are all chomping at the bit for the Red Sox to falter and give up their lead.
The Red Sox didn’t have the high hopes they have now at the start of the season. After Boston was swept in the opening series against the Orioles, Fangraphs gave the Sox just a 22.7% chance of making the playoffs. Those were dark days, but the rainclouds soon cleared and made way for sunshine.
Three months and 55 wins later Boston’s playoff odds jumped to 87.8%. Fangraphs is also projecting the Red Sox to have the 5th best odds at taking home the World Series trophy, behind only the Dodgers, Astros, White Sox, and surprisingly, the Mets. The Red Sox may be exceeding expectations, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing all along.
The team bookended the first half the way they began, with a slump, dropping their final two series and losing 4 of their last 5 games. With how the team was playing last week, the All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time. These days off will enable the players to rest up and refocus for the second half grind.
Even with the high odds to make the playoffs at mid-season, a spot in the postseason is by no means guaranteed, something this franchise knows all too well (see 2011, 1978). The Red Sox need to hold onto and build on their slim division lead to avoid the Wild Card game and earn a bye into the divisional round. The single-game playoff format of the WC game gives an advantage to the team with the most dominant starting pitcher.
Some of the teams likely to end up in the AL Wild Card game include the Rays (Tyler Glasnow), Yankees (Gerrit Cole), Athletics (Chris Bassit), and Angels (Shohei Ohtani). While Boston’s pitching staff has been formidable this season, they by no means have a true ace. Chris Sale could fill that role come October IF he’s fully healthy and IF he’s back to his pre-injury form, but those are some big ifs.
Anything can happen in a one-game playoff and if Boston’s bats, their best weapon, are neutralized by an opposing ace, their playoff hopes could be all over before they begin. The safest path to the playoffs is to avoid that play-in game altogether by winning the division.
The upcoming run of games will be crucial in determining Boston’s final spot in the AL East standings. Boston starts out the second half with 18 games in 18 days against division opponents. They then take on the Tigers for a change of pace before rallying off another 11 games against AL East foes. That run of games totals out at 29 in-division matchups out of 32 games.
Boston’s performance against the AL East is strong so far this year with a 21-10 record. Most notably they are a perfect 6-0 against the Yankees who they face 10 more times over this stretch including the first series after the All-Star break. They’ll need to keep that trend going to stay atop the standings. Faltering out of the gate could give the Rays the lead and let the Yankees or Blue Jays right back in the race.
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Even though the second half of the season begins Thursday, the Red Sox and Yankees will be the only teams in action. This scheduling gives one less day of rest during the break to the 2 teams playing Thursday than the other 28 in the league. Why would MLB have just one game on Thursday while every other team gets an extra rest day? Kiké Hernández offered one possible reason while expressing his displeasure with MLB’s scheduling per Steve Hewitt of the Boston Herald
"“I’m obviously not an All-Star and I definitely feel we need a fourth day,” Hernandez said. “For the guys that made the All-Star Game, I mean, it sucks. As much as it is a privilege for them to be an All-Star, especially for the first-timers, I mean, having to go all the way out to Colorado to play the All-Star Game and have all these emotions up here and then having to get on a plane as soon as the game ends to come all the way out to the east coast to play a game in less than 24 hours, it’s tough.“But hey, MLB likes money and Red Sox-Yankees makes money. So, let there be money.”"
Hopefully, Martinez, Bogaerts, Devers, Eovaldi, and Barnes found some time to rest between the All-Star festivities. The team needs them to keep producing at the level that earned them the trip to Colorado. A strong performance over this stretch can solidify Boston’s spot in the playoffs this year, but a slump could spell disaster and make their road to the postseason a lot more difficult.