Last night, the Boston Red Sox lost another very winnable game. Daniel Bard was not great, but until the eighth inning he kept the Red Sox in the game. Once again, Bobby Valentine overextended the first year starter and Bard walked two to begin the eighth. Matt Albers then entered the game and allowed a three run home run to Billy Butler, costing the Red Sox the lead and the win. Thus far this season, this kind of mismanagement and bullpen meltdown has been far too common. While it still appears that the Red Sox have the talent to make a run at the post season- especially if injured stars like Andrew Bailey, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford can add something down the road- the hole the Red Sox have dug for themselves is quickly becoming too deep to climb out of.
The 2012 Boston Red Sox are not as bad as their record implies. By Pythagorean record, based on runs scored and runs allowed, the team would be expected to be 14-15 and not 12-17, that is still not great but this team is much closer to a .500 ball club then a .412 ball club. With some of those stars returning and a few slumping players like Adrian Gonzalezand Clay Buchholz recovering, this team should be well above .500 by year’s end. Can they play like a 100 club from here out though? Probably not. Unfortunately, that is what they will need to do to have a chance at winning the division and avoiding the new one game Wild Card playoff.
Last season, the New York Yankees won the division with 97 wins. In 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL East with 96 wins. With the improvements the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays have made, it may not take that many wins this season, but the Red Sox should be aiming for at least 95 wins if they want to be close to the division lead in October. To do that they will need to have a winning percentage of .624 from now until the end of the regular season. Over 162 games that is a 101 pace. The team is current on pace for just 67 wins. Even if we use their Pythagorean record, they are still just a 78 win team at this point. They need to become a much, much better club overnight to have any chance at the division title.
That is not to say that it is impossible for this team to carry a winning percentage of .624 or better through the end of the season. After their slow start last year, the 2011 Bosotn Red Sox had an incredible .663 winning percentage from May to September. If the Red Sox were to win their next two games, they would have the exact same record, 14-17 as they did after 31 games last year. After their torrid 2011 summer pace, it took a .259 winning percentage in September and the Yankees indifference in the final game to keep them from the playoffs. The core talent remains and their major weakness from last season, the back end of the rotation, seems to have been addressed. The Boston Red Sox still have the talent to make that kind of run.
However, the odds are stacked up against Boston right now. The first place Rays will only need a winning percentage of .576 to reach 95 wins thanks to their strong start. The Yankees will only need to have a .594 winning percentage to reach 95 wins. Not only do the Boston Red Sox have to win at a torrid pace, they also have to win games at much greater pace than either of their main rivals. That makes the games between the Red Sox and their division rivals even more important.
Thanks to the new Wild Card system and the growing parity in baseball, the Red Sox will not need to win 95 games to make the playoffs and have a shot at winning the World Series. If they are able to win just 89-91 games they should have a very good shot at one of the two Wild Cards. That would mean just a .579 winning percentage or better from here on and that is very achievable.
For that reason, talk of blowing up the Red Sox core early this season is premature. However, the Red Sox are getting close to a point where they can longer hope to compete for the division title. If they continue to underperform throughout this month, they could put the Wild Card out of reach as well. They cannot wait for players Crawford, Ellsbury or Bailey to return. This team needs to be stop losing winnable games right now, otherwise, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s going to get late really early around here.