By CBSBoston.com Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The playoff hopes of the Boston Red Sox are coming down to a wild final weekend of the regular season. It really didn’t have to be this way.

The Red Sox are still very much in the mix for a Wild Card spot. There is also the chance that their season could come to an end on Sunday. If that is the case, it will be because the Red Sox couldn’t win a series against the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in the American League.

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Boston squandered a golden opportunity to take a lead in the race for the second Wild Card spot Thursday night, losing for the second time in three nights in Baltimore. It has a full circle kind of feel to it, after Boston started the season with three straight losses to those same lowly Orioles. An extra win against the Orioles at any point would have Boston in a much, much better position at the moment.

With Thursday night’s 6-2 defeat, the Red Sox now sit at 89-70 on the year, two games behind the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot, and tied with the Seattle Mariners for the second and final AL playoff spot. The Mariners are scorching hot at the moment, winners of four straight and nine of their last 10. To make things even more interesting, the Toronto Blue Jays are a game back of Boston and Seattle, setting the stage for a wild final three days of the regular season.

The final weekend will see the Red Sox visit the Washington Nationals (losing the DH in the process), while the Yankees host the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays, the Mariners take on the sub-.500 Angels, and the Blue Jays host the Orioles. The Red Sox still own a 60 percent shot at making the playoffs, according to ESPN, and they should be able to take care of business against a 65-win Nationals team.

They also should have been able to beat the Orioles over the last three days, but here we are.

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The Wild Card race will very likely come down to Sunday afternoon. Every game starts at 3pm that day, which should serve as an appetizer in Boston to Sunday night’s Brady Bowl at Gillette Stadium. There are a handful of scenarios that could even lead to a playoff game (or potentially playoff games) just to reach that Wild Card play-in game. We recommend a strong cup of coffee (or something else that is extremely strong) when reading about all these scenarios.

For the Red Sox, it boils down to this: Beat a bad team this weekend. A sweep would be fantastic, but at the very least, win the series.

It really won’t take much for the Red Sox to clinch their spot in the playoffs. But we felt the same way before their series against the Orioles began, and Boston’s inability to make any headway in the Wild Card race during that series adds even more pressure to the team this weekend.

Earlier this year, the Red Sox were a team capable of coming back in the face of adversity. It’s a big reason why they were one of the best teams in baseball in the first months of the season, and sat comfortably in first place in the AL East.

But for the last two months, they have mostly crumbled in such situations. When they fell behind the Orioles on Tuesday and Thursday, they essentially packed it in and accepted defeat.

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With their playoff lives at stake, you would hope for a much better attitude and a lot more willpower from Boston this weekend. Unfortunately, nothing is a given with this team, and they now find themselves on the cusp of an epic collapse.

CBSBoston.com Staff