Updating and Predicting the AL Wild Card Race

After going 2-4 in their rigorous series with the Rays and White Sox, the Red Sox now hold the second Wild Card spot in the American League, with Toronto holding the first. Boston now sits just one game ahead of the Yankees for the second Wild Card spot, and three games in front of the Athletics and Mariners. The Red Sox will now travel to Seattle to face-off with the Mariners in a series that could have big playoff implications. 

What’s ahead? 

With the Wild Card narrowed down to just the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Athletics, and Mariners, this is what the remaining schedule looks like for those squads. 

Toronto Blue Jays- vs Rays (3), vs Twins (3), @ Rays (3), @ Twins (4), vs Yankees (3), vs Orioles (3)

Boston Red Sox- @ Mariners (3), vs Orioles (3), vs Mets (2), vs Yankees (3), @ Orioles (3), @ Nationals (3)

New York Yankees- Vs Twins (1), @ Orioles (3), vs Indians (3), vs Rangers (3), @ Red Sox (3), @ Blue Jays (3), vs Rays (3)

Oakland Athletics- @ Royals (3), @ Angels (3), vs Mariners (4), vs Astros (3), @ Mariners (3), @ Houston (3)

Seattle Mariners- vs Red Sox (3), @ Royals (3), @ Athletics (4), @ Angels (3), vs Oakland (3), vs Angels (3)

AL West

The Athletics and Mariners are set to meet each other seven times before the end of the season. With the season series between the two at 7-5, these two very well could knock each other out of the Wild Card race. The two teams have been evenly matched this season, so it is unlikely one dominates the other in their remaining seven games. 

The Athletics also draw the unfortunate task of taking on the Houston Astros six times before the end of the season. Houston and Chicago and currently neck and neck to decide who will have home-field advantage for the ALDS. This means there will be no easy games for the Athletics when they see the Astros. 

The Mariners will see their division foe Los Angeles Angels six times before the season ends. In their 12 matchups this season, the Mariners lead the season series 7-5. The Angels have been tough for the Mariners this season, so their six games could be another factor that drops Seattle in the standings. 

The schedule is not in favor of the Mariners and Athletics moving forward. With both teams three games back of the second Wild Card spot, it is unlikely each team can catch up, IF the Red Sox take care of business in their series with the Mariners this week. If the Red Sox can take care of Seattle, Houston will do the rest with Oakland. 

AL East

The AL East is where things get interesting. The Blue Jays have clawed all the way back into things and now hold the number one spot in the Wild Card. Toronto is a team the Red Sox do not want to see. We have seen what the Blue Jays are capable of, beating up the Red Sox by double digit runs a few times this season.

This race will be tight all the way up until playoff time. As I stated in another recent article, the schedule is in the Red Sox favor once again, but they will need to capitalize.

The Blue Jays will play the first place Tampa Bay Rays six times before the end of the season. The Rays are 8-5 against Toronto this season. The Blue Jays will also see the Twins seven times before the end of the season, who have the ability to put up good offensive numbers.

The Yankees will see the Blue Jays and Rays, as well as come to Boston for a three game series. If the Red Sox hold up their end and capitalize on the schedule, they could be shaping up to land that number one spot. The Red Sox will need some help so they don’t have to see Toronto though.

Has Bobby Dalbec Earned Another Year As A Starter?

Red Sox fans first saw Bobby Dalbec in the big leagues after Mitch Moreland was traded away at the trade deadline in the shortened 2020 MLB season. Dalbec made his major league debut on August 30th of 2020, and in the final month of the season, he put up impressive numbers for a rookie. 

In 23 games in 2020, Dalbec posted a .263 batting average, a .359 on-base percentage, and 48 total bases. Dalbec also hit eight home runs, and knocked in 16 RBIs in his 92 plate appearances in 2020. 

Concerns in 2020

What was worrisome for Dalbec were the same things we are seeing this year. Too many strikeouts, and faulty defense. In his 23 games in 2020, Dalbec had a 42.4% strikeout rate, meaning he struck out 42.4% of his at bats. Much like this year, Dalbec particularly struggled with breaking balls (55.7% whiff rate), and off-speed pitches (54.5% whiff rate). Dalbec also chased 33.5% of pitches out of the zone, which contributed to his high strikeout rate. 

Dalbec also committed three errors at first base in just 20 games started.  

High Expectations in 2021

Coming off the impressive numbers at the end of 2020, and an incredible spring training campaign, Red Sox fans had high expectations for Dalbec in 2021. Dalbec earned the start at first base in the 2021 season opener, thus beginning the roller coaster ride it has been with Dalbec this season.

Slow Start

Unfortunately for Dalbec, he got off to a very slow start to the 2021 season, and really didn’t find himself until after the All Star break. Dalbec hovered around the Mendoza Line for most of the first four months of the season. 

MonthAVGOBPSLGOPSHRSO
April.214.276.343.619129
May.200.243.429.672425
June.237.280.500.780532
July.210.234.30.541125
Pre- All Star .219.264.409.6731095

Dalbec’s struggles had Red Sox fans (Including myself) begging Chaim Bloom to get a first baseman at the trade deadline. Understandably so, the 26-year-old was not putting up good power numbers, and was leading the team in strikeouts. But Dalbec seems to have heard the noise surrounding the first base position because he has elevated his game. 

Post All Star Break

Since the All-Star break, Dalbec has been red hot. He has posted a .297 batting average, .376 OBP, and has hit 10 homeruns, which matches what he had pre All Star break. Since the trade deadline, Dalbec is hitting .350 with 28 RBIs. 

Though Dalbec has significantly improved his game, we are still seeing the same problems. Trouble in the field, and an alarmingly high strikeout rate. Dalbec has 40 strikeouts since the All Star break which puts him in the bottom 2% in strikeout rate in the league this season, with an unnerving 34.5% strikeout rate. 

In terms of Dalbec’s defense, he was a third baseman turned first baseman so there is reason to be patient with his defensive struggles. 

Has Bobby Earned Another Year?

I think he has. The Red Sox are only paying Dalbec $575,000 and he has started over 110 games for the team this season. Dalbec is also under team control until 2023, and then has three years of abirtation until 2027 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. 

Dalbec has shown us over the past month that he is capable of being a solid bat in the lineup. With star prospect Triston Casas ready to take over the reins at first base within the next few seasons, it wouldn’t make sense to break the bank for a first baseman. 

When Casas does take over at first base, which is only a matter of time, that wouldn’t necessarily mean Dalbec wouldn’t have a spot in the lineup. With J.D. Martinez set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023 at the age of 35, the Sox could potentially move on from Martinez and move Rafael Devers to the designated hitter spot. 

Devers’ defense has been atrocious this season and for much of his career. This season alone Devers has 19 errors. Eventually the Red Sox are going to have to take him out of the field if he can’t figure out his defensive issues. Which could leave the door open for Dalbec, who really plays third base.

Looking at the Red Sox Wild Card Chase

With 23 games remaining, the Red Sox currently hold one of the two spots in the AL Wild Card. The Red Sox sit a half a game behind the New York Yankees for the top spot. So if the playoffs started right now, the Red Sox would travel to New York for the Wild Card game. 

Rafael Devers homers twice as Red Sox beat Cole, Yankees

The Wild Card is still relatively new in Major League Baseball, as it was first adopted in 1994, and it was changed to the current format in 2011. The Wild Card is played between two non-division winners with the best record in their respective league. 

With the Red Sox being eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the division lead with just 23 games left, they would need a lot of help to catch the Rays for the division crown. So realistically, the top Wild Card spot should be what Red Sox fans are rooting for. 

The teams the Red Sox need to keep an eye on are Mariners, Athletics, and Blue Jays. The Mariners currently sit three and a half games behind the Sox for the second Wild Card spot. With Toronto and Oakland each four games back. 

Good news for the Red Sox

The good news for the Red Sox? They again will control their own destiny, which they have for the majority of the season. They had chances to bury the Yankees, as well as build their division lead on Tampa earlier this season, but fell short. This time, falling short is not an option, because that could mean falling out of the playoffs. 

The Red Sox will see both the Mariners and Yankees prior to the season’s end. With series against the Rays, and White Sox also in that span, the Red Sox will need to win these series against the teams hot on their tail for the Wild Card spot. The Sox also need to take care of business against sub .500 teams. Boston will see the 43-92 Baltimore Orioles six times before the end of the season, they will also see 56-80 Washington Nationals three times. Those are nine games the Red Sox need to take advantage of. 

Sox need to dig deep

The Red Sox are facing their most difficult hardship of the season in the middle of their Wild Card push. They have sent 11 players to the COVID-19 related injury list in just one week. 

The Red Sox have stayed afloat, and have won six of their last ten games despite all the absences in their line-up. But it doesn’t get any easier. The next two series for the Red Sox will be the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays, and the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox. 

The Red Sox split the series with Tampa Bay last week, in the heart of their Covid outbreak. So we know it is possible for this team to find ways to win despite being short handed. 

Red Sox Host Rays In Must Win Series

Despite being 2-8 in their last 10 games, and having lost their last three series, the Red Sox still remain well in the thick of things in the AL East race. But this upcoming series with the Tampa Bay Rays could be their last gasp. 

Frustration mounts as Red Sox get jumped by Blue Jays in fifth | Sports |  eagletribune.com

The Red Sox have looked like a completely different team since the trade deadline, and it’s hurting them in the AL East race. The Red Sox have had a chance to bury both the Blue Jays and the Yankees in the standings and have failed to do so, now both teams have crawled back into the picture. I mentioned the Red Sox are 2-8 in their last 10 games… the Rays, Blue Jays and Yankees are all 8-2 in their last 10. Yet the Red Sox still sit in second place in the division with another golden opportunity to prove themselves looming ahead. 

The Red Sox will have today off before taking on the Rays for a three game set at Fenway Park. Needless to say, this will be a must win series for the Red Sox, as Boston currently sits four games behind Tampa, who is slowly starting to run away with the AL East. The reason for the Red Sox struggles are simple, and honestly, could be worrisome. But if there is one thing we have learned from this 2021 Red Sox team, it is that they don’t give up. So what is it the Red Sox need to fix prior to taking on the Rays in this monumental series? 

Bullpen Needs To Find Themselves

Let’s start with the obvious, the bullpen needs to be better. The Red Sox bullpen may have over achieved a bit prior to the All Star Break, but they have been really bad as of late. In the last seven days, Red Sox relievers have an average ERA of 4.25, and an average WHIP 1.34. The Red Sox bullpen has been great most of this season, but they have been struggling mightily during this skid. That is the team will need to fix to return to where they were. 

Bats Need To Get Going

Prior to Sunday’s eight run game, the Red Sox were averaging just 2.5 runs per game over their last series. Prior to the All Star break, the Red Sox were averaging 5 runs per game. With the bullpen struggling the way they are, the Red Sox need to provide more run support. 

If the Red Sox want to keep their AL East championship hopes alive, this is the biggest series of the season so far. Luckily for the Red Sox, they will be returning back to Fenway Park for this series, where they are 20-9 since the stadium returned to full capacity. 

The Red Sox Have A Real Problem At First Base

Since the trade deadline passed on Friday at 4 pm, the Red Sox are 0-3. In those three games, Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec is 2/10 with four strikeouts. Yes, it is a small sample size, but this has been the theme for the Red Sox all season, and they failed to fix it at the trade deadline. 

Red Sox Notes: Bobby Dalbec Had Dream Come True In Win Over Angels -  Flipboard

In 86 games this season, Bobby Dalbec is hitting .216, with an OPS of .657, and a team high 113 strikeouts. Dalbec’s strikeout rate is 37.5% and his whiff rate is 39.6%, which is behind just Franchy Corderro, who has also given first base a try for the Red Sox this season. 

Other players that have given first base a try for the Red Sox this season are Danny Santana (.171 BA), Marwin Gonzalez (.205 BA), Franchy Corderro (.196 BA), and finally Christian Arroyo, who suffered a hamstring injury in the third inning in his first game at first base in the MLB… which leads me to my next point. 

Kyle Schwarber

The lone bat the Red Sox acquired at the trade deadline was Kyle Schwarber. The Red Sox acquired Schwarber in a trade that sent pitcher Aldo Ramirez to Washington. The six-year veteran is having a good year, as he has 25 home runs, and is batting .253, with an OPS of .910. The Red Sox already Schwarber taking ground balls at first, but will it really be that easy? 

In 623 career games played from the versatile Schwarber, he has only played first base for one at bat. Schwarber’s experience at first base isn’t the biggest problem, it’s his current injury. Schwarber has been out with a significant hamstring strain since early July, and is still sidelined because of it. When hearing this I can’t help but think of the Christian Arroyo situation I alluded to earlier. 

Though some Red Sox fans are optimistic that Kyle Schwarber could be the first baseman for the Red Sox, I have trouble buying it. Given his injury history, and the fact that he has no prior experience at first base, I find this move to be worrisome. If Schwarber doesn’t work out at first base, it will likely make an already crowded outfield even more crowded, and it will force the Red Sox to creative at first base.

What Could The Red Sox Do?

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the trade deadline was their chance to fix this hole. If Schwarber doesn’t work out at first, the Sox will have to get creative within their current organization. A couple of names I have seen floating around are Kike (15 career games at first), JD (0 games), Renfroe (2 games), and Verdugo (0 games). Outside of the lack of experience with these guys, you also have to consider if you would actually want to move these guys from their current positions.

Red Sox better hope Schwarber can play first and stay healthy, because if not we will see what we have seen all year.

Should We Be Worried About The Red Sox Struggles?

With last night’s 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees, the Red Sox have lost their last three series. They are now 6-7 in the month of July. The Red Sox have been outscored 47-35 in their last three series and have a record of 3-6 in those games. These numbers certainly raise some eyebrows, but should we be worried about the Red Sox struggles?

Boston Red Sox's bats go quiet in 9-1 loss to Yankees; team has now lost 6  of last 8 games, last 3 series - masslive.com

In short, no we shouldn’t. Prior to going on this mini skid the Red Sox won eight games in a row. The MLB season is 162 games long, so the team is bound to face some adversity over the course of the season. Boston really hasn’t faced any adversity since the opening series against the Baltimore Orioles.

Red Sox Have Plenty Of Chances To Build Division Lead

Relax, The Red Sox still sit on top of the AL East. They also have one of the best records in baseball. With that being said, the Red Sox will need to turn their recent misfortunes around if they want to remain at the top of the AL East. 

The Red Sox also have plenty of opportunities to prove why they are the best team in the AL East. Boston will play AL East teams in 26 out of their next 29 games. Though only three of those games will be against the Tampa Bay Rays, who sit just a half game behind the Red Sox for the division lead, the Red Sox will have opportunities to narrow the race to just them and the Rays. The Red Sox will also see the Rays seven times between August 30th and September 8.

In such a long season, it is inevitable that a team drops a few games. For the Red Sox, the schedule is luckily in their favor for division play. The Sox will have their first test tonight, as they take on the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo.

One More Thing…

All though this article wasn’t necessarily about the Red Sox and Yankees most recent series in New York, I feel this has to be mentioned. The way the fans in Yankees stadium behaved throughout the course of this series was completely unacceptable. First with throwing a ball at Alex Verdugo, then delaying the game by shinning a light in the batter’s eye, then spitting on Jason Varitek’s daughter? Jason Varitek’s daughter is nine years old, and was spit on for wearing her father’s jersey, which is absolutely disgusting.

Heckling at opposing fans is one thing but to throw a baseball at player, and to spit on a nine year is another. These are criminal offenses happening at Yankee’s stadium. It feels like this kind of stuff happens too much at Yankee’s stadium to brush it under the rug. The events from this past series are just another reminder of ignorant their fan base can be.