By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The magic number for the Red Sox is down to two, which means Boston could clinch the AL East as soon as Thursday night.

If the Red Sox can defeat the visiting Astros, and if the Yankees lose to the visiting Rays, the Red Sox will be AL East champs for the second straight season.

Of course, neither of those scenarios should necessarily be considered a guarantee.

The Astros enter Fenway Park one game behind Cleveland for the best record in the AL. Given the playoff format, which rewards the best team with an ALDS meeting with a team that had to play in the one-game wild-card playoff, this is something that matters quite a bit to teams. The race for best record might come down to the season’s final day, which means the Astros won’t be letting off the gas pedal during this four-game set at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox will start Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s maintained a 1.78 ERA through four starts in the month of September. He’ll be opposed by Houston’s Brad Peacock, who’s 12-2 with a 2.98 ERA.

A Yankees loss may be the surer bet, but that’s only if the Yankees don’t believe they can realistically catch the Red Sox. A three-game deficit with just four games to play isn’t exactly insurmountable, but it would require a whole lot of good fortune. If the Rays are able to get an early lead, then the Yankees might start accepting the reality of a one-game playoff with Minnesota next week.

Whether it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, the Red Sox are on the verge of winning the AL East for just the ninth time. It will be just the fourth AL East crown since the mid-’90s. Of the eight years ending with an AL East crown, the Red Sox reached the World Series four times, winning championships in 2007 and 2013. The Red Sox reached the ALCS in two of those seasons, and they lost in the ALDS the other two years — including last season.

The best thing for baseball would be for the division race and the race for best record in the AL to last until at least Saturday. But the Red Sox likely aren’t much interested in ratings and drama as much as they hope to just be able to take care of their own business as soon as possible.


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