Junichi Tazawa

Dog Days and the Division

As we near the century mark in games this season, it’s time to look at the final stretch. After today’s game, the Red Sox have 62 games to secure a playoff berth, whether via winning the division or going into a do-or-die Wild Card game. For the first time since 2013, the Red Sox are actually in a pennant race! It’s exciting! And from the looks of things in the AL East, it’ll go right down to the wire.

The Red Sox have been tailing the Orioles and staying ahead of the Blue Jays for some time now, and even though they regained the divisional lead for a short while last week, they did a fine job of squandering it by losing four of their last five games – and unless they can beat Michael Fulmer and the Tigers today, five of their last six. What’s worse is that they’ve done so while playing at Fenway. With the road trip that’s coming up, that sort of mediocrity can’t be allowed to happen anymore. The Red Sox are facing an uphill battle when it comes to the next two months.

While the Red Sox have enjoyed 58 of their 98 games played at home, that leaves them having only played 40 games on the road. 41 of their remaining 64 games will be on the road. Fourty-one! For context: the Blue Jays have just 32 more games on the road, while the Orioles have slightly more, with 34. The Red Sox also don’t have a homestand longer than seven games for the rest of the season – two six-gamers, a seven-game stretch, and the final three-game series against Toronto at the very tail-end of the season.

The worst part? The Red Sox haven’t even gone on one of their West Coast road trips yet. The first of two massive 9+ game ventures start Thursday, while the second one comes during the first week of September. This team has been historically meek when it comes to traveling cross-country to play baseball, and there’s been nothing to convince us that 2016 will buck the trend. The 2013 version of the Red Sox went 9-7 on their road trips – and it wouldn’t have been a winning record if they didn’t face National League competition on the second trip. Even the good Boston teams struggle on the road, especially if the road goes along the Golden Coast. All-in-all, it’s not looking good on the scheduling front.

But wait, there’s more! Remember the first series of the season? You know, in Cleveland, where one game got postponed twice? Yessir, it’s back. Thanks to that one game getting bumped all the way to August 15th, the Red Sox will have to play 23 games in 23 days in August, starting on August 9th against the Yankees and ending on August 31st, against the Rays. That massive stretch of no off-days also includes a 13-game road trip, which is comprised of three games against current first place teams (one at Cleveland, two at Baltimore), four games against Detroit (a second-place team), and four at Tampa Bay. Those games against first place teams? Yeah, they’re clustered at the front of the trip, too. What a doozy that’s going to be. The dog days of August are here, real, and they might just eat the Red Sox up.

The scariest part of this whole thing might just be how Toronto looks right now. They too suffered an awful June, and just like the Red Sox, they’ve picked it up in July. Thing is, luck hasn’t been going their way. The Blue Jays are an unlucky 10-18 in games decided by one-run. Now, there’s been a lot of talk about how a team’s record in one-run games can be attributed to just plain luck, but let’s face it: the Blue Jays are a good baseball team and aren’t going to be that bad at close games forever. With some luck and little bit of improved performance, those numbers are going to start reversing. They’re dangerous, and they’re poised to make a strong second-half surge, even more so than the Orioles.

But what this really means for the Red Sox is that they cannot continue to squander home games. There’s precious few of them left, and they naturally perform much better in Fenway, so they need to start capitalizing on what they have left. Luckily for them, they don’t face a team anywhere close to first place until the Orioles in mid-September. The Red Sox will see the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Royals, and Rays in Fenway over their next 12 home games. That’s where they’ve got to bear down. The Red Sox have a massive +66 run differential at home – which is more than Baltimore’s +55 and their incredible 37-15 record at Camden Yards – and they need to lean on that if they want to keep up with Baltimore and Toronto in the pennant race.

This all could just be pessimism. The Red Sox sloppily split a series with the Twins and have bumbled their way to a losing series against the Tigers, and look terribly unsettled right now. Will they bounce back from this? Probably. But there’s a lot to be said about having a half-game lead on the Orioles going into a four-game set hosting the worst team in the AL, and coming out of it 1.5 games behind. The Red Sox can’t let an opportunity like that slip away again, if it does happen again.

The odds don’t look good. Toronto and Baltimore have a lot more home games, and they only have two west coast road trips between them. The Red Sox have two on their own. This is where those home wins count just a little bit more. The Sox need to tighten it up while playing at Fenway, or they’ll be forced to win on the road, something that they haven’t been able to consistently do – even when they’ve won it all.

Photo by David Banks/USA Today Sports Images

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