The best part of a pennant race? Knocking a divisional opponent all but out of contention. A prime example of this is what the Boston Red Sox just did to the New York Yankees.
New York arrived in Boston on Thursday for a four game series. They were playing their best baseball of the season. Gary Sanchez was on an epic tear and threatening to win the rookie of the year award with what amounts to about eight weeks of playing time.
The Yankees were four games out of first and nipping at the heels of the wild card.
Four games later, the Yankees are all but finished as far as contending for the AL East crown goes, and the wild card? Well, they’ve got a four game deficit to make-up, that now involves climbing over four teams as well.
How did that happen?
Basically Hanley Ramirez happened. No, not Manny Ramirez, but Hanley Ramirez. If Manny was known best for “being Manny” then perhaps Hanley will best be remembered for absolutely demolishing the New York Yankees over the last four games?
Ramirez went 9-for-16 over the four games. Throw in four home runs and nine runs batted in and Ramirez almost single-handedly knocked the Yankees out of the race for the AL East divisional crown.
That brings us to one of the other key aspects of a pennant race. It doesn’t end until all the contenders have been vanquished and to that end the Red Sox are traveling south, not to Florida, but to Baltimore.
Home of the power hitting Baltimore Orioles.
The good news? Boston has outscored the Orioles by a score of 82-74 this year. The bad news? Their head-to-head record is only 7-8. That’s going to change, and for the Red Sox they need it to improve by at least two, and ideally three games.
With less than two full weeks of regular season baseball remaining, it is the Orioles, that currently represent the greatest threat to the first place Red Sox.
The Yankees were dismissed this past weekend. The Blue Jays just lost two in a row to the last place Angels. The 2015 AL East Champs have dropped six of their last ten and they’re 5-11 this month.
The Orioles are the only AL East team other than the Red Sox playing good baseball right now. Baltimore is 10-6 this month, they’re just three games back of the Red Sox, and in case you didn’t notice, they’ve got a tendency to hit a lot of home runs.
That makes the Red Sox-Orioles matchup quite interesting. The Orioles lead the league in home runs, and the Red Sox pitching staff has allowed the least amount of home runs of any AL staff.
The four game series is another chance for the Red Sox to strengthen their AL East title hopes. Red Sox fans won’t celebrate a 2-2 split, but the reality is that for the Orioles, a split is missed opportunity. If the Red Sox and Orioles split the four game series then the two teams will remain separated by three games and the Orioles will have squandered their final opportunity to gain ground on the Red Sox through a head-to-head matchup.
With a three game lead, the Red Sox are almost trying to run out the clock on the regular season. At some point the Blue Jays and the Orioles will run out of both time and games to make up whatever deficit that exists between them and the Red Sox.
The Orioles need to win at least three of the next four games, that’s the only way they can make up ground on the three games that stand between them and the Red Sox. The Blue Jays are in Seattle for a three game series against a Mariners team that has won eight of their last ten, and sports the same 11-5 September record as the Red Sox.
The Red Sox just need to keep winning. Their place atop the division means that as long as they win games, everyone else will remain behind them in the standings.
The four game sweep of the Yankees was fun, it was needed, and it helped the team out tremendously, but this race isn’t over, there’s more work to be done and the four game trip to Baltimore looms large and the team’s most critical four games of the 2016 season.