The Red Sox are still treating the 2019 season as if it can end with a spot in the Wild Card game, so in the spirit of the holiday weekend, let's play along and indulge this exercise in wishful thinking.
They trail the Indians by six games and the Rays and A's by 5.5 each. Forget about Oakland. The A's have beaten good teams all year -- they're 25-22 vs. the other AL contenders -- and their schedule is packed with softies like the Tigers, Angels, Mariners, and Royals down the stretch.
If the Red Sox are going to leapfrog two teams, it's going to have to be Cleveland and Tampa.
There's some vulnerability there. The Indians seemed out of reach as recently as last week, but injuries keep sidelining starters. On Friday night, outfielder Tyler Naquin tore his ACL while making a spectacular running catch in the corner vs. the Rays.
He joins third baseman Jose Ramirez (broken hamate) on the shelf, robbing the lineup of two of its few productive hitters and effectively reducing the offense to Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana.
The Indians have overcome adversity all season, but they're hanging by their fingernails. Second baseman Jason Kipnis left a recent game with a sore wrist. Ace Corey Kluber broke his arm after being hit by a line drive on May 1 and hasn't pitched since. He recently suffered an oblique injury during his rehab and could be out for the season. Outfielder Jordan Luplow, who had provided unexpected production in a reserve role, hasn't played since early August because of a hamstring injury. One bright spot: right-hander Carlos Carrasco just returned after missing three months while battling leukemia.
Add it all up, and the Indians have dropped in the standings. They led the Twins by a half game on Aug. 12, but they trail by 4.5 games today. They've lost three games in the standings to the A's and four to the Red Sox since, putting them ever so slightly in play as the final month begins.
With six games remaining against the Twins and six more against the Phillies and Nationals in the final 10 days of September, the Indians face a tough road to the postseason. Could they open a door for the Red Sox?
Only if the Rays collapse, too. The Red Sox at least somewhat control their own destiny in that regard, with four games in Tampa looming on Sept. 20. Unfortunately, the rest of the schedule isn't particularly kind to Boston, with games remaining against the Twins, Yankees, Phillies, and Giants as well.
The Rays have rebounded from a four-game losing streak to win three straight, and will try to complete a sweep of Cleveland on Sunday. They've been crushed by injuries, too, with defending Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell (elbow surgery), breakout star Tyler Glasnow (forearm strain), and solid starter Yonny Chirinos (finger) all on the injured list. Tampa, which has perfected the art of the opener, has used 14 different starting pitchers and still ranks second in the AL in ERA (3.67).
The Rays are 9-6 against the Red Sox and have consistently outplayed them. Boston is trying to win the Tampa way, with openers and bullpens ruling the day, though the Red Sox boast the clearly superior offense.
After Sunday's finale in Anaheim, the Red Sox will have 25 games left to make up a significant wild card deficit. The odds remain decidedly against them, but the path they must follow is clear. It passes through Cleveland and Tampa.
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