If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, you've probably been enjoying the AL East standings for quite some time now. The Red Sox have shaken off some recent bumps in the road and still maintain a 3.5 game lead over the hated New York Yankees with 19 games remaining.
The good news for Boston is that of those 19 games, all but four are against non-playoff teams. This should be a walk in the park for the Red Sox but as the ill-fated 2011 season has taught us, expect the unexpected.
Where Boston stands today
Boston's magic number entering Monday's action is a whopping 17, quite high given where we are in the regular season. This is because, for all of the Yankees' faults and Boston's second-half strengths combined, the Red Sox have just not been able to widen the gap.
It's as though the AL East race is the famed James Bond film Goldeneye, with Boston playing the role of supervillain Alec Trevelyan (Sorry, Red Sox fans!) and New York being 007. Why can't the Yankees just be a good team and lose??
The good news for Boston is that of their remaining games, two are against last place teams in the Oakland A's and Cincinnati Reds. The Red Sox already took three of four from Oakland back in May and haven't faced the Reds yet this year, but having a fairly light schedule helps the team's prospects for ultimately shrinking their magic number and clinching the AL East.
In fact, the only playoff team that Boston will face before the playoffs is the Houston Astros, and those would be the last four games of the season. Barring a major twist, the division or even a playoff berth should be clinched by then.
The road ahead
Boston's bad news comes in a few different forms. The first is that the team has nine games remaining against AL East squads in the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays, six of which are on the road. Each of those three teams would love to play spoiler, especially Baltimore since the O's and Rays each have an outside shot of being the second AL Wild Card team.
Second, the New York Yankees are starting to slowly turn things around and have gone 6-3 in the month of September. That includes two wins against Boston and of New York's 20 remaining games, only three are against a playoff team, the Minnesota Twins who currently hold the second Wild Card spot. All it takes is the right hot streak and a few untimely Boston losses, and the Red Sox could find themselves in a play-in game just for the honor of participating in the American League Division Series (ALDS).
Finally, Boston's roster on paper is far from playoff caliber, at least compared to last year. The loss of future Hall of Famer David Ortiz leaves the lineup without a capable and clutch bat in the middle of the order and the entire lineup is lacking power in general. Boston ranks just 27th in MLB with 148 homers as a team, leaving them in the middle of the pack in terms of team batting average and runs scored. That's going to be a problem in the playoffs combined with core players like Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi not having the experience of going deep into the postseason.
And let's not forget Boston's pitching woes. Save for ace an AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale, who is still just 3-3 with a 4.01 ERA since August 1 and hasn't notched a win against the Yankees this season, the entire rotation is suspect. Rick Porcello went from a 5 WAR season and winning the AL Cy Young in 2016 to losing 17 games this year. Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez are touch and go despite fine overall potential. David Price's elbow could keep him out of the playoffs entirely.
That all being said, though the Boston Red Sox are in a position to take home the AL East Crown, the fact that the team's magic number is so high truly makes the division theirs to lose. Baseball does well when Boston does well, so here's hoping manager John Farrell can stay the course.