Refocus, Move On

I still couldn’t tell you how this happened, but it’s happened, so we might as well accept it. The Red Sox will not be winning the AL East this season.

Somehow, despite the best starting rotation and second-best offense in the league, they’re just not going to be able to do it. The Rays have somehow stayed in first — and expanded their lead — despite a worse run differential and, thusly, a much worse Pythagorean record than the Sox. We can dissect the whys and why nots for the next six weeks, but it won’t change that fact. The Red Sox are not good enough to win the division this year.

Thankfully, this does not mean they can’t make the playoffs, and the Sox still have the lead in that race (though the White Sox and Twins are knocking on the door, and the game against Chicago tonight is quickly approaching "must-win" status). The Yankees, fortunately for us, look even more lost than the Red Sox, and look very close to giving up on the postseason altogether (not that I will ever be the one counting them out). The Yankees’ struggles help the Red Sox in that they remain the most formidable opponent — both in head-to-head play and in the course of the season. So it’s not all bad news.

If the season ended today, the Red Sox would make the playoffs. They’re not playing well — they’ve been a .500 team since June 1 (25-24) and were under .500 in July, they can’t win on the road and are now below .500 against teams with winning records — but they’re certainly no worse than this time last season, when they were blowing so many leads, I had to take a week’s vacation just to avoid turning into a bad person. And that team won the World Series.

Which brings us to the key: Winning the division isn’t that important anymore. It felt more important last year because the Sox hadn’t done it in 12 seasons, but with that out of the way, does it really matter? You always want to finish first, but sometimes it’s best for your sanity to give up the dream and recognize that it’s getting into the playoffs that matters.

And if the Sox make the playoffs, count me very hopeful about the havoc a Top 3 rotation of Beckett, Lester and Matsuzaka could wreak.

35 comments… add one
  • Winning the division clearly isn’t that important judging from the success of the WC winners in October ball since it was instituted. Then again, a WC that can’t win on the road is probably not long for the playoffs.
    All that matters is being close enough to stay in the picture until September and then getting hot at the right time.
    Amazingly, the Yankees are still in a position where getting hot at the right time could get them into the playoffs and even after getting swept by LA they have the third best road record in the AL after the Angels and Rangers. But the disarray of their rotation makes it much less likely for them to get in then for Boston to do so. If that is the case, I sure woldn’t mind the Yankees playing spoilers to the Sox playoff chances in that last weekend of the season in Fenway.

    IronHorse (yf) August 11, 2008, 11:03 am
  • Yeah…I totally wouldn’t mind crushing the Yankees at Fenway that last weekend to clinch a playoff spot.
    Frankly, I still have hope for the division (though Wakefield’s injury tempers that quite a bit–he’s been having a good year). Tampa Bay has yet to play its roughest stretch (one off day from the 26th of August to the 28th of September, with a double-header thrown in the mix at one point), and the Sox are at home for the large majority of the time once they finish the long road trip at Yankee Stadium near the end of August (and the Rays on the road most of that month).

    Devine August 11, 2008, 11:11 am
  • Also, not sure why a Boston team would refocus from the division when Tampa Bay has arguably the toughest schedule in baseball in September. They play 17 of their 27 games on the road in Sept (they too have a losing road record) and the only home games they have that month are against Boston, NYY, and Minnesota.
    By comparison, Boston plays 16 at home and only 9 on the road in Sept. From the perspective of a casual Boston follower, it would seem they just need 1 or 2 bullpen arms to step up or be acquired.

    IronHorse (yf) August 11, 2008, 11:15 am
  • Last 28 games for Sox: 19 home, 9 road.
    Last 27 games for Rays: 10 home, 17 road.
    Oh, I lied, they have two off-days in that stretch I mentioned, but only one in their last 27 games (after the off-day on 9/1).
    AND we have six chances to face them directly and get back games that way. It can be done.

    Devine August 11, 2008, 11:16 am
  • I hope you’re right, Devine. I certainly do. But if the Sox continue to play .500 ball from here on out, the home-road splits won’t matter much. Of couse, that would also probably kill any chance of the Wild Card, so I guess implicit in my belief that they will untilately make the playoffs is a belief that they will begin performing better.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 11:20 am
  • Winning the division isn’t that important anymore. It felt more important last year because the Sox hadn’t done it in 12 seasons, but with that out of the way, does it really matter?
    For a team that is this horrible on the road, winning the division (and locking up some home-fiend advantage) is VERY important. We’re probably not going to beat the Angels anyways, let alone in LA.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 11:22 am
  • And Devine’s information is crucial too, though we cried the “We have an easy 2nd-half schedule!” warcry in 2006 and it got us nowhere. Ellsbury and Lowrie getting hot certainly help us, but with Wakefield gone we now have to rely on Bowden for a few starts. I’m excited to see some more young talent come up, but I’m worried about having to rely on him. I’d rather we bring up pitchers on our own terms, rather than having our hand forced.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 11:26 am
  • Also, I’m not worried about Minnesota: I firmly believe the bottom will drop out on them shortly, especially with the injuries they just suffered this week. I do worry about Detroit making a push for the WC though.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 11:28 am
  • Who did the Twins lose this week? I’ve been distracted with home duties and watching the Olympics (unreal swimming relay last night for those who missed it).

    IronHorse (yf) August 11, 2008, 11:37 am
  • The ’07 team, as you mention, broke spirits mid-year last year as well (I remember SF carping about it, me saying something about the ’04 team’s similar bad run, and him dismissing the ’07 team’s possbilities).
    The Sox are 6-3 (I think) since the Manny trade (though I don’t think Manny being gone and winning have a cause and effect relationship). Win today, and things are okay. A 4-3 road trip sounds just super this year.

    Devine August 11, 2008, 11:44 am
  • winning the division (and locking up some home-fiend advantage) is VERY important.
    I disagree that it’s all-caps very important, unless you think the Sox have a prayer at catching the Angels for best record in the league.
    Currently, the Sox would face the Angels in the first round, with the first two games at Fenway. If the Sox rally to win the division and Tampa gets the WC, the Sox get home-field advantage for the first round only, against Chicago or Minnesota, both of which are teams the Sox have actually shown they can beat at least once on the road, before facing the Tampa-Anaheim winner (probably the Angels).
    So either way, we’re facing the Angels without home-field advantage, and actually I think I’d like the shorter series better, given our current problems with rotation depth and the prospect of having the first two games at home.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 11:50 am
  • Michael Cuddyer had a freak injury. He was a runner on first base and a line drive was hit at him, and he jumped up to avoid it but it hit him on the ankle, breaking one of the bones down there. Sportscenter also mentioned them losing someone else (a pitcher?) but the name escapes me right now.
    Good point Devine; a 4-3 road trip ain’t bad. And we have Texas and Toronto at home later this week, which should (hopefully) right the ship. If we lose to them at home… well then we’re in trouble.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 11:53 am
  • Currently, the Sox would face the Angels in the first round, with the first two games at Fenway.
    What? The Angels have the better record and would have the first two games in Anaheim.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 11:56 am
  • Yeah, Devine, if they win today, it’s 7-3 in their last 10, and they ccan still be considered to be “on a roll,” having earned a series split and a series win on the road. The problem is that even if they win tonight and the Rays lose, they will have lost ground in that timeframe. The Rays somehow continue to outperform their numbers to a degree that I’m not sure hoping for a Rays slide like the one they executed entering All-Star break (when the Sox gained five games in six days) is terribly realistic.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 11:57 am
  • Am I totally missing something by thinking that a series with the Angels would mean the first two games are played in Anaheim? The only situation where the first two games would be at Fenway is if the Red Sox have home-field advantage over them.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 12:06 pm
  • Hmm, do they do 2-3 or 2-2-1? I thought it was 2-3…

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 12:12 pm
  • I think Paul just mis-spoke Ath.

    IronHorse (yf) August 11, 2008, 12:13 pm
  • 2-2-1

    IronHorse (yf) August 11, 2008, 12:14 pm
  • but they’re certainly no worse than this time last season, when they were blowing so many leads, I had to take a week’s vacation just to avoid turning into a bad person. And that team won the World Series.
    Also, at this time last year we were 70-46 and had a 5-game lead in the division. This year we’re 4 games behind that mark and 4.5 games out of first place, with a slim (1.5) lead in the WC.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 12:14 pm
  • Yeah, 2-2-1. The only reason I remembered that is because of 1) Manny’s walk-off at Fenway in the ALDS, and 2) Joba’s bug problem in Game 2 in Cleveland.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 12:15 pm
  • Ah, well, in that case, the short series would probably suck as well. Then again, I thought the Angels would be a lot tougher last year, too.
    Either way, the Sox ain’t catching the Angels, so I’m not sure that home-field in the first round is that important.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 12:29 pm
  • By the way, this is posted at SurvivingGrady but it’s HILARIOUS (capital-letters hilarious).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8ttPdPaLgw

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 12:30 pm
  • Just not here yet with you, Paul. I still have so many doubts with them, and probably unjustly.
    But, I think I’ll wait for at least one of the head to head matchups to make this call.
    You may be right, but I’m just not there yet.

    Brad August 11, 2008, 12:42 pm
  • I do agree with Paul about the Beckett-Lester-Daisuke combination in the playoffs. Wakefield is a very strong #4 if he’s healthy enough to play by then.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 12:46 pm
  • If not Wakefield, then Masterson. It’s weird, but I have a lot more confidence in this team’s postseason ability than in its regular-season ability. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that before…

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 12:55 pm
  • I think that you guys are forgetting the top 3 pitchers in both tampa and anaheim. Kazmir/Shields/Garza isnt quite as good as the sox top 3 but its pretty damn close and the Lackey/Saunders/Santana trio Id give an advantage to. These teams have depth in their rotation as well with strong #4s in Weaver/Garland and Sonnenstein/Jackson.
    To me the question mark in the playoffs would be how the sox offense goes. As us YFs know all to well a strong offense with holes can be shutdown very effectively in the post-season.

    Sam-YF August 11, 2008, 12:56 pm
  • A quick look at playoff pitching matchups (sorted by ERA+ to keep things simple, instead of trying to guess who would be the #1 starter for other teams):
    #1:
    Daisuke Matsuzaka – 154
    Scott Kazmir – 133
    Joe Saunders – 139
    John Danks – 139
    Advantage: Red Sox
    #2
    Jon Lester – 138
    James Shields – 117
    John Lackey – 135
    Gavin Floyd – 116
    Advantage: Red Sox
    #3
    Josh Beckett – 109
    Matt Garza – 110
    Ervin Santana – 123
    Mark Buehrle – 113
    Advantage: Angels
    Obviously this doesn’t take into consideration bullpens (which will most likely come into play during Daisuke’s start, ugh) but at a quick glance Boston has the advantage in their top 3 starters. Wakefield’s ERA+ of 120 is also far-and-away higher than any of the other teams #4 starters.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 1:07 pm
  • I’d put the Sox just above Lackey-Saunders-Santana, but it’s a fair point that all three clubs have a very imposing trio of pitchers.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 1:08 pm
  • And for what it’s worth (not sure how much), Becektt’s been a beat in the postseason, while Lackey’s been, well, not so much.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 1:10 pm
  • Agreed Paul, despite Beckett’s struggles this year I have 100% confidence in him if we make it to the playoffs. Even if the season ended today it wouldn’t surprise me if Tito gave him the ball for Game 1.
    That raises an interesting question: who would/should start a playoff series? Daisuke is the best pitcher, but he doesn’t go deep into games. Beckett has history behind him, but he’s only been a little better than average this season. Would it be insulting to Daisuke/Lester to start Beckett? Is it justifiable to start Beckett ahead of Wakefield (if Wakefield is healthy in October) in the playoffs?

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 1:15 pm
  • Thanks for looking up the numbers ath. Id say its all very close really and that no one team has an overwhelming SP advantage. All of the top 3 pitchers for these 3 teams can be more or less untouchable on any given night.
    I think its only fair to point out that the effect of Beckett’s stellar post-season history is brought back to earth a bit by DiceK’s not so stellar performances last year in October.
    Hopefully, this will all be moot as the yankees roll through september with .750 winning % to snatch the WC from the Sox!

    Sam-YF August 11, 2008, 2:15 pm
  • Yeah Sam, all three (or four) teams have fantastic pitching. And as history has taught us the postseason is a toss-up.

    Atheose August 11, 2008, 2:29 pm
  • I refuse to engage in a serious discussion about postseason pitchers until there’s an “x” or “y” next to “Boston” in the standings.

    Paul SF August 11, 2008, 2:38 pm
  • it’s an obvious overstatement but, to win the division would be crucial for the sox. an ALDS matchup between the angels and rays could really help a sox playoff run. soscia vs. maddon is basically the same gameplan with maddon holding the edge this year (4-2).
    some promising notes for the sox WC chances…contreras is out for the season, the tigers have farnsworth, and the twins have a very inexperienced pitching staff after the departure of hernandez.

    sf rod August 11, 2008, 6:03 pm
  • In part to be contrary, but also because I genuinely think predictions like this are nonsense, I’m going to call b.s. on Paul’s prediction.
    The Sox just beat the ChiSox 5-1, with Beckett in great form. They are 4 games out. Their expected wins (based on run totals) is five better than the Rays, which suggests good luck for Tampa and bad luck for the Sox so far.
    Anyway: Four games deficits in August in the A.L. East are, if history is any yardstick, meaningless. The team which is now ahead is technically the better bet to finish first.
    The Rays have hardly proved to me yet that they won’t at some point in the next 6-8 weeks go on a serious losing streak (it happens to everyone in a season) that causes the Sox to catch up. The Sox could do the same and put themselves out of 1st place contention.
    It’s a toss-up at this point — calling any team out of the chase for first is just begging to be proven wrong.

    Hudson August 11, 2008, 11:07 pm

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