The Red Sox played their 108th game of the season Monday night against the Phillies. The Yankees will play their 108th game against the Red Sox on Friday night, the day after they arrive in Boston for the first of a four-game series that will be the most intriguing encounter between these ancient rivals in well over a decade.
One-oh-eight is a significant number because it officially represents two-thirds of a season. Hard as it may be to fathom, we are about to enter the final trimester of the year, a 54-game sprint to the tape, and in this year of American League Superteams, it means 54 games to avoid a 55th game.
It isn’t just the win-or-be-gone stakes that will be on the table for whichever team, Yankees or Sox, finishes second in the East. (That reality itself has sparked conversations about the fairness of a team that wins 100-plus games being required to endure the wild-card-game cauldron, though as hard as it may be to swallow in this season, it is a cyclical thing; most teams in the play-in game deserve to be there.)
No, what’s most fascinating is that, with the Astros starting to slide ever so little and seeming to settle into the slot as the No. 2 seed, the No. 1 seed — Red Sox or Yankees — will almost certainly draw the wild-card winner. And while anything can happen in the wild-card game, the Sox or Yanks will be overwhelming favorites to survive that. So it’s almost certain to be Sox-Yankees in an abbreviated best-of-five in the ALDS.
But the wild-card team will also likely have to burn its ace — Chris Sale if it’s the Sox, Luis Severino if it’s the Yankees. And that means the survivor will only get to throw that ace once in a five-game series. Add that to home-field disadvantage and you’re talking about a best-case scenario where you’re entering the ALDS with two strikes against you before a pitch is thrown in anger.
So these are genuine stakes facing these teams across the final third of the season. As such, with that bell lap approaching, here are three things to consider:
1. How does the Yankees schedule set up?
Favorably. The Yankees kick off a brief two-game series with the Orioles Tuesday at the Stadium, and while the Yanks are an inexplicable 5-5 against the O’s to date (as opposed to the Sox, who are 10-2 against them), the O’s have been profoundly weakened by deadline deals.
Of the Yankees’ final 58 games, 35 come against eight teams (O’s, White Sox, Rangers, Mets, Tigers, Twins, Jays, Marlins) who entered Monday with an average record of 43-62. They have 16 games against three teams (Red Sox, Mariners, A’s) who had combined average records of 67-39 as play began Monday. And they have seven left against the Rays, who are exactly at sea level (53-53).
Logic insists that should bode well for the Yankees, although so far this season, they haven’t exactly bombarded lousy or average teams (they’re 14-14 against the O’s Rays, Mets, Tigers, Marlins and Rangers, for instance), while they’ve played consistently well against good teams (they’re 17-9 in the games they’ve played against first-place teams).
2. How does the Sox schedule set up?
Not quite as user-friendly as the Yankees’. The Red Sox’s ability to feast on the proliferation of woeful American League teams has helped (they’re 31-9 against the teams listed above who have played the Yankees even) but that all-you-can-eat buffet starts to get broken down from here on in.
Of the Sox’s final 54 games, almost half — 26 — come against five teams (Phillies, Yankees, Indians, Braves, Astros) who are an average record of 61-44. They have 22 against five teams (Jays, O’s, Marlins, White Sox, Mets) with an average record of 41-64. And they have six left with the break-even Rays.
Logic insists the breakdown should make the Sox vulnerable for the cold stretch that has been thought to be inevitable, though so far they’ve managed to play at least their first 110 games having lost as many as three in a row only once.
3. How does the final third of the season shape up?
We are officially deep enough into the season that we can come up with math problems like this one: If the Sox play .500 baseball the rest of the way in a season in which their winning percentage entering Tuesday is .694, it’ll take 103 Yankees wins to overtake them. That would be daunting if the Yankees themselves weren’t playing at a 103½-win pace, with all those winnable games ahead.
It’s too early to start printing such numbers in the Globe and the Herald, but the truth is the Sox’s magic number is now 51. The lead is six. There is so much baseball still to be played. And this is when the fun officially begins. Ring the bell. The final lap approaches.
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