By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox split their brief two-game series against the Phillies with a loss on Tuesday night. Considering the Sox had won on Monday, we should have known Tuesday’s loss was coming. After all, when the Red Sox have faced playoff-caliber opponents this season, they’ve pretty much split the bill.
Considering it’s still August 1, we don’t exactly know what the playoff field will be in either the American League or National League. The three divisions and one of the wild cards are more or less squared away in the AL, but the A’s and Mariners figure to be jockeying for the second wild card for the foreseeable future. In the NL, the lead in the East is held by a half-game, the lead in the West is held by a half-game over two teams, and the Central is tied. The field is wide open.
So for now we’ll have to consider all of those teams as “the playoff field,” such as it is. And against that playoff field, the Red Sox have gone 15-16.
At first blush, that doesn’t look promising. Considering the Red Sox are coming off back-to-back AL East titles but have just a 1-6 postseason record to show for it, all of this regular-season winning in 2018 won’t mean a tremendous amount if the team can’t put together a worthwhile playoff run.
Yet while the record may appear to be concerning, it’s worth examining two things in order to provide some context. First, how have the other playoff teams fared against the playoff field? Second, how have recent World Series winners performed during the regular season against playoff teams?
We’ll look at those one-by-one. First, we’ll look at 2018’s current crop of playoff teams. That list includes:
(That’s obviously a group of 13 teams, whereas only 10 teams will make the playoffs. But as has been mentioned, the races are too close at the moment to not consider some of those teams to be in the playoff fold.)
Here’s how every team in that group has performed against the rest of that group, listed from best to worst:
New York: 24-11 (.686)
Chicago: 22-18 (.550)
Houston: 24-20 (.545)
Arizona: 25-21 (.543)
Milwaukee: 21-19 (.525)
Los Angeles: 24-25 (.490)
Boston: 15-16 (.484)
Colorado: 23-25 (.479)
Philadelphia: 18-21 (.462)
Seattle: 18-22 (.450)
Cleveland: 15-20 (.429)
Oakland: 19-26 (.422)
Atlanta: 16-21 (.421)
From that, you can clearly see two things. First, most of the playoff teams are .500 or worse against other playoff teams. Second, the Yankees have managed to destroy any and all playoff teams that have come their way. (The Yankees, though, have oddly gone 12-11 vs. the Orioles and Rays.)
While any team would probably prefer to be in the Yankees’ shoes in that regard, it’s clear that the Red Sox’ current record against playoff teams is not at all uncommon. This makes sense; good teams generally rack up wins against bad teams and do their best to basically tread water against the league’s best teams.
With that in mind, let’s look at the last four World Series champions and see how they fared against playoff teams in the regular season.
2017 Astros vs. playoff teams: 18-15 (.545)
2016 Cubs vs. playoff teams: 17-14 (.548)
2015 Royals vs. playoff teams: 15-23 (.395)
2014 Giants vs. playoff teams: 20-29 (.408)
Keeping it local, here’s the championship-winning Red Sox teams performed against playoff teams:
2004 Red Sox vs. playoff teams: 21-19 (.525)
2007 Red Sox vs. playoff teams: 22-19 (.537)
2013 Red Sox vs. playoff teams: 26-16 (.619)
Clearly, when it comes to World Series champs against playoff teams, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You can be the 2015 Royals and be dreadful against playoff teams, or you can be the 2013 Red Sox and be a buzzsaw. But regular-season success against the playoff field is not a prerequisite for winning the World Series. The 2007 Red Sox stand out, too, as that team was utterly dominant and basically led the AL East from wire to wire. Still, they were only three games above .500 against the league’s playoff teams, including an 8-10 record against the Yankees.
As it stands for the 2018 Red Sox, things could look worse. (Certainly, there can’t be too much confidence in Cleveland, Oakland or Atlanta.) At the same time, they’re probably going to want to head into October with at least a .500 record against playoff teams. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that, with 10 games left against the Yankees, seven games left against Cleveland, and eight games combined left against Atlanta, Houston and Philadelphia. That’s 25 total games against the teams that are currently in the playoff mix, and if the Red Sox can go something like 14-11 or 13-12, they should be just fine. Even if they’re a few games worse, it won’t be reason to panic.
Considering how bad the bottom of the league has been this year, much will continue to be made about the presumed lack of quality of all of Boston’s victories. But once the calendar rolls into October, recent history shows that such a consideration should not really play a factor in the ultimate result of the Red Sox’ postseason.