So: there are 64 games left in the season, the Sox are within a whisker of having the best record in baseball (.602 winning percentage vs the Tigers’ .604), they’re 7.5 games up on the Yankees, they’re fourth in the AL in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, and 2nd in OBP. Their pitching staff has the second best ERA, the second most K’s, and the second best batting average against.
All of that’s good news, and (and yes, this has already become a very tired refrain) if anyone told any of you during spring training this is what the baseball universe would look like with a little more than a week left in July, you’d be ecstatic. If I was a betting man (note: I am a betting man), I’d put good money down on Boston to win the AL East.But since bloggers and sportswriters alike need something with which to occupy their time (and space, whether that be virtual or actual), let’s break down some numbers. Since the beginning of June, the Sox have been a .500 team (on the dot, actually, with a 23-23 record); during that same period, the Yankees have been a .640 team. That’s a good stretch of time; if those numbers were to hold for the remainder of the year, the Yankees, with 93 wins, would win the division by 2 games.
But wait! If you go back and count off 64 games (the number of games actually remaining in the season) and replicated those patterns, you’d end up with the Sox winning the East by…7.5 games, since both teams have put up 36-28 record in that time. And certainly you’d be more likely to expect the Sox to play at something closer to a .600 clip than a .500 clip, right? Because, really, how many good baseball teams play .500 ball for months on end?
How about the ’04 Boston Red Sox? (You had to have seen that coming.) Before running away with the, er, Wild Card in August, the Sox had a three month stretch — May through July — in which they played .500 ball (.506, actually; they were 41-40).
All of this still leaves me without any discernible point. Fear not; I actually have several.
1. It’s patently ridiculous for sportswriters to declare in May (or June, or July) that a race is “over” unless it’s actually, mathematically over. Nevertheless, that’s what lots of people were doing, from the folks over at “Baseball Tonight” to almost every newspaper in the greater New England area. (That tendency is excusable; it takes someone with a true dedication to stupidity to posit the opposite.)
2. The Yankees were never, ever as bad as they looked. They have a scary offense — as shown by the fact that they’re leading the AL in plenty of offensive categories. And their pitching staff is good enough to carry them along: Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2007 is a far cry from Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2003, but it’s not awful; throw in Wang and the potentially terrifying Phil Hughes and you’ve got yourself a rotation.
3. Inre #2: It is time once again to praise Joe Torre’s bullpen management. If — and this is an enormous if, obviously — the Bombers do make it to the playoffs, the combo of aging starting pitchers and a bullpen full of dead-arm relievers is going to be a big problem.
All of this, I suspect, will make for a fun couple of months. If I was being forced to guess (note: I do not need to be forced to guess), I say Boston’s division lead will be as low as 4 games and that they’ll ultimately end up winning the East by somewhere between 6 and 8. Oh, and I’d also guess that New York won’t be in the playoffs, A-Rod won’t be in the Bronx come next spring, and Joe Torre will wish he’d retired a year earlier.