When viewing the wild card standings, the number that matters isn't games back, but teams back.
Right now the Boston Red Sox only trail by two games, but with three teams ahead of them: the A's (50-41), Indians (50-38), and Rays (52-39). They're a game ahead of the Rangers.
As the second half wears on, it becomes difficult to pass multiple clubs, even if they're only separated by a handful of games. Somebody is winning every night, and the opportunities to gain ground on the crowd are minimal.
The good news is there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON the Red Sox can't claim the wild card. Tampa is just 11-15 since taking three of four from the Red Sox in early June and is sagging under the weight of Tyler Glasnow's absence and Blake Snell's ineffectiveness (4.70 ERA). All-Star Charlie Morton is on pace for the first 175-inning season of his career at age 35, which doesn't seem sustainable. Tampa is vulnerable.
The Indians are without ace Corey Kluber and just announced that talented right-hander Carlos Carrasco is undergoing treatment for leukemia. They own one of the worst offenses in the game, especially with former MVP candidate Jose Ramirez hitting just .217, but have won six straight and are 24-12 since taking two of three from the Red Sox in May.
The A's lost ace Frankie Montas to an 80-game PED suspension, and are still without left-hander Sean Maneaea, who is hoping to return in August from labrum surgery on his left shoulder. They're doing it with duct tape and gum, and at some point that's going to give.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are getting All-Star-caliber performances from shortstop Xander Bogaerts and dynamic third baseman Rafael Devers, as well as slugging catcher Christian Vazquez (!?!), DH J.D. Martinez, and yes, even defending MVP Mookie Betts, who very quietly hit .435 on the final road trip of the half.
Their bullpen remains a mess, and they're not getting much from their starting rotation, but if you're telling me the hopes of the postseason rest on the shoulders of Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello, I'd actually feel pretty good about that, even though Sale and Porcello have underperformed considerably.
"We're a lot better than this," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Detroit following Sunday's 6-3 victory. "We are. We need to get better. We need to get better. There's a few things here that, although we finished strong and all that, they know it. They know it as a group. We have to be ready for Friday, and then we play 34 in 34 days after that, and we start with the Dodgers right away. It should be fun over the weekend. But I think we can be a lot better than this." . . .
Speaking of Vazquez, holy cow. He smashed his 14th home run on Sunday and hits the break batting .299 with an .852 OPS. This is someone who entered the season with 10 lifetime homers and a lifetime batting average of .266 in the minor leagues.
But the undersized catcher has exhibited power to all fields, with prodigious shots to center and right. For all the talk of Devers' All-Star snub, Vazquez had a compelling case to make, too.
"I want to win," Vazquez told reporters in Detroit. "I'm trying to help the team win. We're playing better, that's the goal, no matter the result, I like wins." . . .
We should have a good idea of where the Red Sox stand by mid-August. They open the second half with a brutal schedule that includes the 34 games in 34 days that Cora mentioned. There's one off day, but it's counterbalanced by a doubleheader in New York.
Those 34 games won't be easy. Ten games come against the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Royals. Three will be against MVP favorite Mike Trout and the Angels, who are hanging around the periphery of the wild card chase. The other 21 will be against the iron -- the Dodgers, Yankees, Rays, and Indians.
Survive that gauntlet, and we can talk.
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