BOSTON (CBS) — With less than a week left before MLB’s trading deadline, you keep hearing the same question around Boston: Are the Red Sox buyers or sellers?
The answer, of course, depends on one’s opinions, feelings and hopes for the next two-plus months of baseball. Specifically, one must decide if the Red Sox will be in position to secure a wild-card berth and have the chance to win a one-game playoff to advance to the ALDS.
But what exactly would need to happen for the Red Sox to do that? We could sit here and debate our personal beliefs all we want, or we could crunch some numbers and try to find a much more useful solution.
I’ll choose option B.
In case you aren’t fully aware, the new playoff format that was installed for this season calls for two wild-card winners. Those two teams will be the two non-division-winning squads in their respective leagues with the best records, and they will play each other in a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the ALDS and the loser packing up its locker room and heading home for the winter.
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So what will it take for a team to earn that second wild-card spot? Rather than pick an arbitrary number, like, say, 90 wins, I went back and checked the records of the teams that would have qualified for the second wild card in the past 10 years, had this new system been in place. Their average record, lo and behold, was 90-72.
Right now, the Red Sox are just 49-49. With 64 games left, they’d have to go 41-23 from now until the end of the season, requiring a winning percentage of .641 to end July and for the full months of August and September. Their best winning percentage for any month this season was their .556 mark in June.
But let’s say the Red Sox are able to miraculously flip this season upside-down, that Jon Lester and Josh Beckett go a combined 18-2 the rest of the way, that Jacoby Ellsbury repeats his MVP-caliber play, that Carl Crawford can play entire baseball games, that David Ortiz picks up where he left off, that Dustin Pedroia wakes up at the plate, that Adrian Gonzalez stays hot and so on and so forth. Let’s assume for now that reaching that 90-win mark is a possibility for the Boston Red Sox. That would be enough to make the playoffs then, right? Well, no. They’d still need some help. And by “some help,” I mean “an impossible, absurd, completely random, unfathomable, Armageddon” amount of help.
If you look at the standings right now, you’ll see Oakland holding a wild-card spot with a 52-44 record and the Angels holding the other spot with a 53-45 record. But they’re not the only teams the Red Sox would need to catch, as there are six other teams currently ahead of Boston. There are the 52-45 Tigers, the 52-45 White Sox, the 51-46 Orioles, the 50-47 Rays, the 49-48 Indians and the 48-48 Blue Jays. It’s technically just five teams, though, because either the Tigers, White Sox or Indians will win the AL Central.
For the sake of simplicity (and avoiding the mess of having one-game playoffs just to determine which team makes it to the scheduled one-game playoff), let’s say that for the Red Sox to earn that second wild-card spot, they’ll have to win 90 games, and all of the teams in their way will have to finish the season with 89 games (we’ll give Oakland the “first” wild-card spot, again for simplicity’s sake). That means the teams involved could not finish the season with better records than the following:
Tigers/White Sox: 37-28
Blue Jays: 41-25
It may be safe to assume the Blue Jays and Indians won’t win 40 or more games the rest of the way, sure, but remember, in this miraculous scenario, the .500 Red Sox have to go 41-23. Given how strong some of those other wild-card contenders look, that’s a whole lot of “ifs” the Red Sox would need to rely on in order to make the playoffs.
It’s all technically possible, but mathematical odds can’t help a team go 41-23 for two-plus months, and they can’t make five other teams all fall apart down the stretch.
What needs to happen for the Red Sox to make the playoffs is, at this point, really not worth thinking about. Barring four or five miracles, it’s just not going to happen.