Red Sox still have best playoff odds among AL Wild Card contenders

Aug 8, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) is congratulated after scoring in the fourth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) is congratulated after scoring in the fourth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have great odds of making the postseason

A frustrating weekend at Fenway Park was agonizing for Boston Red Sox fans but getting swept by the New York Yankees was hardly a fatal blow to the team’s playoff chances.

The three-game losing streak drops Boston one game behind New York and only one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays in the standings. The Red Sox had an opportunity to essentially lock up the top Wild Card spot in a pivotal series but instead, they are left battling for their postseason lives.

While many are quick to relate this miserable series to the Boston Massacre of 1978, the sweep is far more damaging to our perception of this team than it is to their actual chances of advancing to the postseason.

According to the MLB Playoff Odds from FanGraphs, the Red Sox still retain the best odds among the American League Wild Card contenders. The Tampa Bay Rays have already clinched the AL East but Boston is an overwhelming favorite to earn one of the two Wild Card spots.

Red Sox Win Wild Card: 86.3%
Yankees Win Wild Card: 81.2%
Blue Jays Win Wild Card: 27.1%
Mariners Win Wild Card: 5.4%
Athletics Win Wild Card: 0.1%

How can the Red Sox have better odds than the team ahead of them in the standings with only six games to go? Or far superior odds to a team that trails them by only one? The answer revolves around the remaining schedule.

The Red Sox have by far the easiest remaining strength of schedule at .402 while the Yankees (.559) and Blue Jays (.496) face a more challenging final week.

Boston wraps up the regular season against the last-place Baltimore Orioles and a Washington Nationals team that punted on this season at the trade deadline. Both series will be on the road where the Red Sox have produced a solid 39-36 record. They are clearly better in the cozy confines of Fenway Park but neither opponent owns a home record that should concern us.

Anything less than a 6-2 record on this road trip would be a massive disappointment and nobody should be surprised if the Red Sox swept their remaining schedule.

Also working in Boston’s favor is that their two main competitors are facing each other for a three-game series beginning on Tuesday. This ensures that either the Yankees of Blue Jays will lose at least two more games. As long as Boston takes care of business in Baltimore, they will gain at least one game on one of these division rivals. If the Red Sox sweep the O’s, it will be very difficult for Toronto to catch them unless they sweep the Yankees, in which case Boston would leap ahead of New York.

The outcome of that series in Toronto could alter how we view Boston’s chances heading into this weekend. The Yankees could potentially bury the Jays over the next few days. On the other hand, if Toronto survives in the race heading into the weekend series, they wrap up their season hosting the Orioles for a series they should certainly win.

If the Red Sox still hold at least a one game lead over the Jays at that point, they should be able to hold it against Washington. Considering Juan Soto is arguably the hottest hitter on the planet right now, it’s hardly a lock that the Red Sox will coast through that final series though.

While Boston undoubtedly has the easier schedule, New York’s might not be as daunting as it appears. A three-game series with the Rays with their postseason fate on the line might appear to be an unenviable position, but Tampa is on the verge of clinching the AL’s best record. It’s highly likely that the Rays will have nothing to play for in that series and could be resting their regulars while lining up their rotation for the ALDS.

We saw a similar scenario when the Red Sox capped their epic September collapse in 2011. Having already clinched the division, the Yankees pulled several starters in the season finale in Tampa while the Rays made an improbable rally, ultimately winning on a 12th-inning walk-off home run by Evan Longoria that stole the Wild Card spot away from the Red Sox. Will the Rays return the favor this year or will they be eager to play spoiler to the Yankees?

Boston won the season series against Toronto and New York. If a tiebreaker is needed to determine home-field advantage for the Wild Card game or a potential one-game playoff to clinch the final Wild Card spot, the edge would go to the Red Sox. That tiebreaker advantage could be essential in a race this close.

The chase for the two Wild Card spots could come down to the wire but the Red Sox control their own destiny. Knowing what’s at stake, Boston absolutely needs to win each of their remaining series. If they can do that, the Red Sox remain in the driver’s seat for a trip to the postseason.

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