With approximately two months to go, the baseball world is starting to come to terms with the idea of the Yankees not making the playoffs. Six games out and in third place in the East, coupled with the potential loss of Joba Time, could mean a New York-less postseason for the first time since 1993. In 1993, The Chronic was still the new hotness.
Surely a postseason without Captain Clutch and the Bombers would be a blow to American morale and family values, but what if, ::gasp:: the Boston Red Sox were also October absentees?
Before Massachusetts starts to riot or ESPN executives break down the door to my mother's basement and detain me in Bristol, be comforted in knowing it's not much of a possibility.
However, it's not completely out of the question. Currently, the Sawx sit at 65-49, three games out of first place. The Yankees are six games out of first, and the way things are going, could end up even farther behind by week's end. So no problem, right? They might even overtake the Baby Rays and restore their rightful place as Titletown of the World.
Except one thing. There's two other divisions in the American League. Consider the unexpectedly tight Wild Card race:
Sawx 65-49 .570
Twins 62-51 .549
Rangers 60-54 .526
Now consider that the Twins have caught fire over the past months and actually took first in the Central before yesterday's loss, and that the Rangers have taken two in a row from the Yankees. Suddenly it's not such a cakewalk.
The Red Sox have been in the playoff mix the entire year and, at times, looked to be among the best in either league. Their pitching is far superior to the Rangers and Twins, and Jason Bay is smoking the ball as the new left fielder. But Boston has patched together its lineup all season, and some things do not bode well for the future.
David Ortiz has struggled since returning from his injury, and experienced discomfort in his wrist again on Monday. One little twinge and the lineup becomes significantly less scary with Bay and J.D. Drew as the go-to hitters.
Speaking of Boston's favorite Canadian, Jason Bay, at .429 with 6 RBIs, is bound to cool off. As much as he contributes defensively and on the bases when compared to Manny, he is not on the same tier when it comes to pure hitting ability.
Lastly, the Red Sox can't let the Twins and Rangers slip by unnoticed. Minnesota is getting great pitching from relative unknowns and beating up on the Central (34-20), against whom they have 15 more games. Conversely, if the Rangers could ever get any quality pitching they'd be a division lock. The best offense in baseball is 7-3 over their last ten games, scoring eight runs or more in six of those victories. They also have the "benefit" of not worrying about winning their division. Down 10 1/2 to the Angels, Texas can focus solely on the Wild Card.
Boston does have a few things going for them, though, and it's why they will ultimately make the playoffs, even if it's a closer race than originally anticipated. They are clearly the superior team. Better bullpen, better starters, dependable offense. Neither team can say they do more than one thing better than the Sox. Closing out close games becomes crucial at this point in the season, and Boston has the talent to get past the middle innings with a lead intact.
The remaining schedule also aids the Red Sox, in that both Texas and Minnesota must survive a number of tough series, most notably the Tampa Bay-Los Angeles gauntlet. The Rangers must play thirteen games combined against the top two teams in the league, while the Twins play eight. Boston escapes with just six.
The Red Sox may be safe for now, but if Texas or Minnesota stays hot we could be in for yet another tight race in a year defined by them.