The Red Sox won't finish behind the Yankees this year. I guarantee it.
A team can only win with paper clips and silly putty and gum for so long, and Aaron Boone is New York's manager, not MacGruber. The Yankees have impressively transformed themselves from an unathletic, uninspiring underachiever into a runaway train that has made up an astounding 10 games on the Red Sox since July 27, but they're not built to last.
No team in baseball has won more one- or two-run games than the Yankees, who are somehow doing it with half of their roster on the COVID or injured lists -- from Gleyber Torres to Gio Urshela to Anthony Rizzo to Miguel Andujar to Corey Kluber, Domingo German, and Aroldis Chapman.
New York is the little engine that could, but playing the plucky overachiever doesn't really suit one of the sport's financial behemoths. The Yankees will come back to earth, because as much as we might think the Red Sox Just Aren't That Good, the same can be said of New York, which has been riding the Luis Gils, Jonathan Loaisigas, and Rougned Odors of the world back into contention after a busy MLB trade deadline.
"They have a good team, I've been saying it all along," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "They did some good things throughout when they were struggling with COVID and all that. It started the last homestand here with all the young kids coming up -- not young kids, some of them were veterans at Triple-A -- coming up and playing a different brand of baseball. That's a different team than early in the season. They're more agile, more versatile, more athletic, and one thing they've done throughout the season, they can pitch."
It's a nice story, but it's not a lasting one. Mind you, that doesn't make Tuesday any easier to take, when the Red Sox entered Yankee Stadium one game ahead of New York and exited a game back after being swept because of a largely punchless attack.
The losses erased the highs of a weekend sweep of the Orioles and also dropped the Red Sox out of playoff position for the first time since April, .001 behind the Yankees and A's in the Wild Card race.
Outside of sweeping the worst team in the American League, the Red Sox haven't played well since early July. They managed only three runs and one extra-base hit in two games on Tuesday. Their bullpen walked the house in the opener, and they went quietly in the nightcap. It was enough for Cora to sound some understandable alarms, since the Red Sox last trailed New York on April 6.
"We've got to play better," Cora said. "We've got to play better. That's the bottom line. It's frustrating that we are not playing the way we're capable of."
However bad this feels, it's temporary. The Red Sox may very well get swept on Wednesday night, but they're about to go on a run. The schedule practically demands it.
Just as New York climbed back into the race by pummeling the Marlins, Orioles, Mariners, and Royals, the Red Sox soon will have the opportunity to make like a great white amongst the pod of seals known as the Rangers, Twins, and Indians. After Wednesday's finale, 26 of their final 39 games will be against teams that are either already below .500 or possibly headed there.
The Yankees have some layups, too, but they also must contend with the NL East-leading Braves, the wild-card hunting A's, and the Shohei Ohtani-led Angels, all on one murderous road trip. And while the Red Sox have only 10 games remaining against the other three AL East contenders, the Yankees must play 13.
Boston's road gets just a little easier and New York's gets just a little harder. The Red Sox have already welcomed back left-hander Chris Sale, and newcomer Kyle Schwarber is reaching base at an impressive clip. Right-hander reliever Ryan Brasier and versatile infielder Christian Arroyo are nearing returns. The starting rotation has been outstanding for a couple of weeks now, and left-hander Martin Perez and right-hander Garrett Richards might actually contribute in the bullpen.
This is not to say that the Red Sox can just show up and expect to beat anyone. But it is to note that they're about to be afforded the same opportunity that kickstarted New York's rebirth.
No matter what happens in Wednesday's series finale, the path forward is clear: bully the dregs, split with the division, play meaningful baseball in October. The Red Sox didn't spend the last four months in front of the Yankees because of luck. They did it because they're better.
Now go prove it.