The Yanks, Rays, and Red Sox each have 30 games left on their regular season schedules, including a heavy dose of games against one another. So much can happen from one day to the next that running hypothetical scenarios is admittedly pretty fruitless. But as a fan I also find it irresistible. I can't avoid looking one series or week ahead and thinking "what if they were this far back or ahead by then?" or "what is the likeliest route for them to get back into this?" or "by when would they need to shore this up to be ready and healthy for the post-season?", etc. Indicative of an idle mind? Probably. A complete waste of time? Undoubtedly. But enjoyable nonetheless. So, doing my best to wear the fandom of each of the ALEast contenders I looked at their respective match-ups over this final month, and came up with the below.
Red Sox: Remaining Home/Away: 15/15; Average win-percentage of remaining opponents: .516; Of note: 6-game west coast trip; 6 games left vs. the NYY (all among final 9 games of the season); all 7 of their 2010 match-ups with the White Sox still to go. Implication: Unlikely to make playoffs, but most likely scenario is probably to catch the Yankees by getting to within at least 6 by mid-Sept and relying on the following 6 head-to-head match-ups plus the Yanks' heavy load of games vs. the Rays and Toronto – the only two AL teams with winning records vs. NY.
The Sox' current 3-game losing streak that began against the Rays in what was an agonizingly tight 3-game set at the Trop has put them in a position of having to rely on others to keep their playoff chances alive. They now trail both the Yanks and the Rays by more games than they have left to play against either team. Their best shot at making the post-season is probably to catch the Yankees against whom they have 6 games left to play (compared to only 3 vs. the Rays), and to root for the Rays to take at least 4 of the 7 games they have left against New York. Beyond the well-documented, much-discussed, and still severe injury-handicap, Boston's task is made harder by the fact that they are the only one of the three ALEast heavyweights with a West Coast trip left on their schedule and a full 6 games against the Manny-infused Chicago White Sox, who still have plenty to play for. If I were a Sox fan who had not yet given up on this season, I would be hoping the Sox can get through next week's home series against the Rays and return home on September 16 from their 6-game stint in Oakland and Seattle no more than 6 back of the Yankees. The Yanks will be entering arguably their toughest stretch of the year – including 6 vs. Boston, 4 vs. Tampa Bay, and 3 vs. a Toronto team that, at 7-5, has fared better vs. the Yanks than any AL-opponent this year. Boston would be banking on making up the bulk of ground in those final two weeks. I don't see Boston catching Tampa Bay, which has the easiest path ahead of the 3 contenders.
Yankees: Remaining Home/Away: 15/15; Average win-percentage of remaining opponents: .523; Of note: only 5 games outside of AL East left; long current homestand vs. rough final two weeks; Implication: Build a cushion of at least 3 games over the Rays by the time they meet Tampa Bay at the NYS on Sept 20. If the Yankees are tied or behind the Rays come Sept 23 it's unlikely they will take the division given the relative match-ups for both teams from that point on.
The Yankees are in the early part of their longest homestand of the season, and looking at the upcoming schedule, they need to take advantage of it if they want to keep Tampa Bay from taking the division. Unlike the Sox and Rays, the Yanks' last 30 games are spent almost entirely in the ALEast. Other than the series with Oakland that wraps up tomorrow, they have a 3-game set vs. the ALWest-leading Rangers in Texas and that's it. The rest of their schedule includes 6 games each against ALEast foes Toronto (their toughest opponent to-date), Baltimore (on whom they have feasted to the tune of a 8-2 record in the pre-Showalter era), and Boston, plus 7 against Tampa Bay (the only AL team other than Toronto against which the Yanks have a losing record). By the time they conclude their last series against Tampa Bay on Sept 23, they need to have put a good cushion between themselves and the Rays, including hopefully owning the tie-breaker (they are currently 5-6 vs. Tampa Bay) because while NY moves from that series to 6 vs. Boston and 3 vs. Toronto, the Rays finish the season playing 3 of the worst 4 teams in baseball: Seattle, Baltimore, and Kansas City.
Rays: Remaining Home/Away: 13/17; Average win-percentage of remaining opponents: .489; Of note: TB is .500 or better against every AL opponent and the 10 remaining games they play outside of the ALEast are all against losing teams with their easiest stretch being the final 9 games of the season; Implication: Remain no worse than 2 games back of the Yankees through the final series with NY on Sept 20-23 and they will still have a good shot at taking the division.
Since there are no Rays fans on this site (and hardly any in Tampa Bay) we needn't spend much time on what a Rays fan need root for, but it is essentially the reverse of the Yanks. Take the lead or at least hang close enough to NY through their final 4-game series at the NYS on Sept 20-23, get the tiebreaker by winning the season series, and take advantage of the easiest schedule of the three – esp in the final 10 days – to wrap up the division.
Final note on scenarios: If what is currently the most likely scenario plays out and the Yanks and TB emerge as the only ones really vying for the division and the WC, then it will be interesting to see how NY manages things, especially if it comes down to the final series of the year. Probably more than any team entering the playoffs the Yankees need to go into October with their rotation set up in order. Having to rely on CC to win a final game to clinch the division could very likely turn into a Pyrrhic victory if it means he isn't available to start Game 1 of the ALDS. In that scenario we may find out just how important it really is to win the division vs. simply making the playoffs with a rested CC.