If I’m a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I’d be a little ticked off right now.
Oh, the defending world champions are having another tremendous season, and are heading for another 100-win season after bulking up their already-impressive roster at the trade deadline, and have already clinched a playoff berth.
But LA is still a game behind the surprising Giants in the NL West, and if those standings hold, the Dodgers would be forced into a one-game wild-card playoff game against either the Cardinals, Reds, or Padres.
Those teams are a whopping 17 games behind LA as of this writing.
And one sub-par game could send the 2021 World Series champions home despite the second-best record in all of MLB and an All-Star-laden roster.
But we can save the boo-hooing for the sun-splashed residents of LA County for another day, because there’s more parochial drama shaping up in the American League.
The three division winners are already set, with the Rays, White Sox, and Astros all commanding at least seven-game leads with 14 or 15 games left to play.
But the wild card, as in the West, is still wide-open, with the three AL East teams that currently trail Tampa Bay all within a half-game of each other, and the wild-card game’s entrants more than likely will both come from some mixture of the 82-64 Blue Jays, the 83-65 Red Sox, and the 82-65 Yankees.
As recently as six weeks ago, it seemed that there would be little drama in terms of playoff teams to come out of the AL East, as Boston led the Rays by a couple of games, and the Yankees and Jays sat 8 ½ and 10 ½ games behind, respectively.
But after the trade deadline came and went, Boston stumbled to a 12-19 record while NY went 23-4 (with a 13-game winning stream thrown in there) and Toronto won nine of 10 before cooling off precipitously in the second half of August. But the Jays got hot again just in time, and are right back in the thick of things after a 13-2 run.
We all know what happened with the Red Sox in the last month-and-a-half. They pouted and floundered after what the players and fans perceived as a non-active trade-deadline participant, and they then lost 18 players to COVID since Aug. 3, and as recently as two days ago were entrenched in fourth place in the division.
But they have no excuses anymore, and that’s why it’s on the players in the next 14 games to just take care of business so that they can cruise into the wild-card game, with the survivor likely to take on the Rays in a best-of-three ALDS.
Boston has pretty much all of its virus-stricken players back, and has a very favorable schedule down the stretch, so anything short of a place in the winner-take-all game would be massively disappointing.
Let’s start with this weekend. The Orioles come to town for three at Fenway, and they are hands-down the worst team in the AL, and their next loss with be No. 100 of the season.
Boston memorably lost the first three games of the season to the O’s, at home no less, but have won nine of the last 10 meetings between these haves and the have-nots.
The Red Sox cannot lose to a team that is has been playing out the string for months, although Baltimore has shown recent flashes of feistiness, having taken three of six from the Pinstripers in the last couple of weeks.
The other New York team comes to Fenway next, and the Mets back in the first half of the season would have been a formidable opponent, as New York was a first-place team heading into August before everything fell apart. Since July 28, the Mets have gone 18-29, with 13 of those wins coming against the 62-84 Marlins and the 60-86 Nationals, the bottom-feeders of the NL East. New York is pretty much out of the playoff chase, and should also be easy pickins next week.
Yes, the Yankees come to town for a crucial series in the Fens next weekend, but Boston’s final six games are against those same putrid Orioles, and then 30 miles down the road in Washington, DC, where the 60-86 Nats will be closing out their dismal 2021 campaign — amazingly, just two years removed from their improbable 2019 World Series championship.
After next Tuesday’s matchup with the Mets, Boston will have exactly five games left, which shapes up nicely for one last turn through the rotation, with a back-from-COVID Chris Sale on normal rest for Game 162 (which could be a must-win) and the quietly effective Nathan Eovaldi fully rested for the potential wild-card tilt (which obviously would be a must-win).
Meanwhile, here are the Yankees’ and Blue Jays’ remaining schedules:
Blue Jays: vs. Twins (3), at Rays (3), at Twins (4), vs. Yankees (3), vs. Orioles (3).
Yankees: vs. Indians (3), vs. Rangers (3), at Red Sox (3), at Blue Jays (3), vs. Rays (3).
So there you have it. No more excuses, Red Sox. Take care of business, get to the wild-card game (and maybe even host it), and then let the chips fall where they may the rest of the way.
Anything less than an 11-3 finish (which includes four off-days!) to close out the regular season would be deemed unacceptable against this level of competition.