Don’t Look Behind You; Look West

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Here’s the Red Sox remaining schedule:

3 more games with the Rays in Boston.

4 games with the Orioles in Boston.

3 games in New York against the Yankees.

3 games in Baltimore at the Orioles.

Here’s the Rays remaining schedule:

3 games against the Red Sox in Boston.

4 games against the Yankees in New York.

3 games against the Blue Jays in Tampa.

3 games against the Yankees in Tampa.

Here’s the Angels remaining schedule:

3 games in Baltimore against the Orioles.

4 games in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

3 games in Anaheim against the A’s.

3 games in Anaheim against the Rangers.

Here’s the Yankees remaining schedule:

3 games against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

1 game against the Twins in New York.

4 games against the Rays in New York.

3 games against the Red Sox in New York.

3 games against the Rays in Tampa.

Here’s the Rangers remaining schedule:

3 games in Seattle against the Mariners.

3 games in Oakland against the A’s.

3 games in Texas against the Mariners.

3 games in Anaheim against the Angels.

Here are the standings top-to-bottom:

Tm W L W-L%
NYY 90 58 .608
 BOS 86 63 .577
TEX 86 64 .573
 TBR 83 66 .557
 LAA 82 67 .550
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/16/2011.

At this point, you can toss out tendencies and match-ups; it’s a war of attrition and everyone—everyone—is vulnerable.

Without getting into the percentages and likelihoods of teams making the playoffs, here’s a realistic and hands-on examination of what can happen.

The Red Sox are reeling; the fan base is panicking; the Rays are charging and the Angels are right behind the Rays. Josh Beckett is rushing back from a sprained ankle to save the day; given his history as a clutch pitcher, he might do just that. But his right ankle is his posting/push-off leg and if he’s not healthy and able to give a normal effort, the Rays will let him know early; they’re also going to test him by bunting and running. There’s a time for heroes and a time for prudence; this is a time for heroes and it remains to be seen if a compromised Beckett can deliver that.

The Red Sox are so decimated and desperate that they have no other choice, but if the Rays weren’t the opponent or breathing down their necks, Beckett would probably not be pitching.

What needs to be watched more than the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees is the AL West.

The Rangers and Angels schedules are weak for the remainder of the season; let’s say the Rangers win 7 of their 9 games before ending the season against the Angels; and let’s say that the Angels win 7 of their 10 before that series. The Rangers will have a record of 93-66; the Angels 89-70. The Rangers will already have clinched the AL West; they’ll have nothing to play for in the final 3 games.

The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays will be beating up on each other and if there are no sweeps occurring, the Red Sox should be at about 90 wins; the Yankees at 94; the Rays around 87-88 before getting to the games they’re not playing against one another. If the Red Sox take care of the Orioles by winning 5 of 7, they’ll get to 95 wins. The Yankees should take a couple of games against the Blue Jays to get them to 96, putting them in the playoffs; the Rays will be left out with 90 wins.

What the masses—the safe and secure Yankees; the panicking Red Sox; and the rampaging Rays—all have to do is: A) avoid getting swept when playing their divisional opponents; and B) keep a close watch on what happens in the West.

If the Rangers have nothing to play for and the Angels need those wins in the last three games, the Red Sox, Rays or Yankees will need the help of a Rangers team that won’t care one way or the other who else makes the playoffs.

That is the last situation (barring total elimination) a team wants.

It’s possible. I’ve seen it happen.

As the Red Sox have come apart, many have compared them with the 2007 Mets. There are similarities, but the biggest problem the Mets had that year was that the Wild Card option was blocked as two teams were vying for it; the Rockies blazing hot streak catapulted themselves into the playoffs; neither they nor the Padres had the NL West as an opening because the Diamonbacks had already clinched it.

The Mets got bounced.

This could easily happen—if things go a certain way—to any one of the three AL East teams fighting for their playoff lives.

Don’t watch the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees and breathe a sigh of relief with a series of unresolved skirmishes and indecisive ends—watch the Angels and Rangers.

They’re the problems. Or the solutions.

And yes, you should be worried about both of them.