BOSTON (CBS) – Fifteen years ago, in hopes of intensifying late-season races, Major League Baseball went back to an unbalanced schedule. The basic message was this: if you want to make the playoffs you’re going to have to fight your way out of your division.
Which brings us to the 2016 Red Sox.
Having returned from this week’s interleague series with the San Diego Padres, the Red Sox have 23 games remaining this season – all in the American League East. Currently the possessors of a one-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the division, the Red Sox have series remaining against at Toronto (three games), against Baltimore (three), against New York (four), at Baltimore (three), at Tampa Bay (three) at New York (three) and home against Toronto (three). Of those four teams, only Tampa is out of playoff contention, which means the AL East race in September will effectively be a Battle Royale.
So, for the Red Sox, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, it depends on how you look at it.
For example: The Chicago Cubs lead the National League Central; in intra-division games this season, the Cubs are a sterling 38-18, best in the NL Central. The same is true of the Washington Nationals, who are 42-18 in the NL East. Ditto for the Cleveland Indians (36-17) and Texas Rangers (38-22), who easily have the best records inside the AL Central and the AL West, respectively.
The two outliers? The fading San Francisco Giants, whose 34-23 record in the NL West is a whisker better than that of the Los Angeles Dodgers (34-25) – but has them in second place. And, you guessed it, the Red Sox, whose 28-25 record in the division has them third behind Baltimore (32-27) and Toronto (32-28) – but who now lead the division.
So here’s the ultimate question: is the Red Sox’ record to this point predictive, which is to say that they won’t win the division because they’ve been third-best inside the AL East all year? Or is the data merely incomplete, meaning that the Red Sox will end up with the best record in the AL East if they play well over the next three-and-a-half weeks?
Have fun trying to figure that one out.
In the interim, know this: once the possessors of one of the worst pitching staff in the league, the Red Sox were up to fifth in the AL in overall pitching entering Thursday’s games. Fifth. And that was true despite a leaky bullpen, only amplifying the efforts of a Boston rotation that had backboned the Red Sox to a 3.53 overall team ERA that ranked second in the AL after the All-Star break, trailing only the Detroit Tigers.
If you’re a Red Sox fan, that is something to hang you’re hat on.
Twenty-three-game to go.
A one-game lead in the AL East.
And the Red Sox have been pitching better than they have all year long.