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Looking at the landscape facing the AL contenders

Posted by David D'Onofrio  September 2, 2013 10:49 AM

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It was only eight days ago that the Red Sox woke up a few percentage points behind the Rays in the American League East, and trailing the Tigers and Rangers, too, in the AL as a whole -- but now, as it welcomes Detroit to Fenway Park for a big three-game set that begins Monday, Boston finds itself 5.5 games up on Tampa in the East, and enjoying a 1.5-game cushion in the race for the coveted top seed in October's tournament.

Nothing is decided, of course. It's only Labor Day, which means there's still basically a month of baseball to be played. However, the Sox suddenly have themselves in a position where they don't need to catch anybody, don't need to rely on others, don't need to worry about anything beyond their own control. They simply need to handle their business, keep winning, and they'll get where they want to go.

Earlier that might've merely meant the playoffs, but with 8.5 games of padding between themselves and the cutoff point for the second wild card, says they have a 98.9 percent chance of getting to the postseason, and that's no longer the goal. Now the first goal is to win the division, but just as much a focus right alongside it should be securing that No. 1 ranking. With it comes the right to face the winner of the wild-card game, rather than another defending champ, so it's advantages are significant. That's what makes this week's Sox-Tigers series so crucial.

With that in mind, let's take a look at what all the contenders for the AL's best record have still ahead -- and whether the Red Sox' standing is really as good as it seems:

82-56, .594
Home games remaining: 12 (45-24 so far)
Road games remaining: 12 (37-32)
Days off: 4
Games vs. ...
500+ teams: 19 (41-36)
vs. under-.500 teams: 5 (41-20)
vs. above average offense: 17
vs. above average pitching: 13
Analysis: Aside from two games in Colorado, the rest of the Red Sox schedule is exclusively comprised of the Detroit series and intradivision games. That's not an easy slate, but given the off-days and how well they've played at home this season, they're positioned to succeed.

80-57, .584, 1.5 GB
Home games remaining: 10 (45-24 so far)
Road games remaining: 15 (37-32)
Days off: 3
Games vs. ...
500+ teams: 9 (44-35)
vs. under-.500 teams: 16 (36-22)
vs. above average offense: 3
vs. above average pitching: 15
Analysis: The Tigers play six games against the Royals over the next two weeks, though after Sept. 15 the schedule is something of a cakewalk -- with series against Seattle, Minnesota, Miami, and the Chicago White Sox, all of which are at least a dozen games under .500. They're also dangerous because after they leave Boston they don't face another team with an above-average offense. Given their own starting pitching depth, they stand to dominate.

79-57, .581, 2 GB
Home games remaining: 13 (39-29 so far)
Road games remaining: 13 (40-28)
Days off: 2
Games vs. ...
500+ teams: 16 (34-28)
vs. under-.500 teams: 10 (45-29)
vs. above average offense: 16
vs. above average pitching: 16
Analysis: The Rangers will not have an easy road to October. They start a six-game road trip Monday that'll take them to Oakland (which they lead by a game in the West) and Anaheim (which has won six of seven), then it's home series with the Pirates and A's, followed by another trip to Tampa Bay and Kansas City. That's six straight series against winning opponents. That's tough, though things soften at the end: They close with seven games at home against the Astros and Angels, clubs against which they're 26-4 this season.

78-58, .584, 3 GB
Home games remaining: 14 (42-25 so far)
Road games remaining: 12 (36-33)
Days off: 2
Games vs. ...
500+ teams: 6 (35-33)
vs. under-.500 teams: 20 (43-25)
vs. above average offense: 12
vs. above average pitching: 6
Analysis: The A's just did the Red Sox a service by sweeping Tampa Bay, and that should propel them into a soft schedule with some momentum. Oakland has been mediocre for a month (15-15), but aside from two big series with the Rangers the Athletics don't face another winning team this season. They're a threat to Texas -- and everybody else, too.

75-60, .556, 5.5 GB
Home games remaining: 11 (44-26 so far)
Road games remaining: 16 (31-34)
Days off: 1
Games vs. ...
500+ teams: 14 (37-45)
vs. under-.500 teams: 13 (38-15)
vs. above average offense: 14
vs. above average pitching: 10
Analysis: The Rays are 3-7 in their last 10, 9-11 in their last 20, and 13-17 in their last 30. And it's not going to get easier. They have just the one off day left, and a majority of their games are on the road and/or against winning teams -- both of which are circumstances in which they've lost more than they've won this season. The best thing Tampa has going for it is a three-game lead over Baltimore for the second wild card spot, and only four head-to-head chances for Baltimore to make up ground.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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