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Killer portion of schedule has arrived, and Red Sox could be cooked

Killer portion of schedule has arrived, and Red Sox could be cooked originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Reaching the playoffs was always going to be a challenge for the flawed and inconsistent Red Sox, especially in baseball's best division.

But the schedule makes their task feel borderline impossible.

If you're wondering why everyone insisted the Red Sox show some urgency through the recently completed Royals-Tigers-Nationals (and Yankees, as it turns out) portion of their schedule, Monday night in Houston illustrated why.

Fresh off a respectable 9-4 run through non-playoff teams that frankly needed to be more like 11-2, the Red Sox saw what happens when you give a legitimate contender too many chances.

They raced to a 3-0 lead on Adam Duvall's mammoth home run, but they couldn't make it stand under an assault from outfielder Chas McCormick, whose two homers propelled the hosts to a 9-4 victory that dropped the Red Sox four games back in the wild card race.

With three more games in Houston before returning home to face the Dodgers and Astros in a homestand that could effectively end their season, the Red Sox are beginning a gauntlet unlike anything facing the other American League contenders.

The Red Sox own the toughest remaining schedule in the AL, and the second-toughest in baseball, trailing only the Rockies, who did nothing as owners of the National League's worst record to deserve the Braves, Orioles, Dodgers, Rays, Jays, and Cubs down the stretch. Their only "easy" series left is against the superstar-laden and underachieving Padres.

The Red Sox don't quite have it that bad, but they're not far off, especially in comparison to the teams they're chasing. The remaining clubs on their schedule have posted a .540 winning percentage, and there's a chance that six of them will be in the playoffs: the Orioles (seven games), Astros (six), Rays (five), Rangers (three), Jays (three), and Dodgers (three).

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They'll need to obliterate the White Sox, Royals, and Yankees in their other 10 games, and even that might not be enough, because their primary wild card competitors have it ridiculously easy by comparison.

Fresh off a sweep of the Astros that has them closing in on the second wild card, the Mariners will be feasting on cake between now and October. That's partly due to the dregs of the American League West in the woeful A's and the staggering Angels. But they've also drawn the Royals, Mets, and White Sox. The Mariners' remaining opponents own a .480 winning percentage, leaving them with the seventh-easiest schedule in baseball.

As if that's not bad enough, they rank exactly one spot ahead of the Blue Jays, who have stumbled after sweeping the Red Sox at Fenway to lose their hold on the final wild card. The teams on Toronto's schedule have played to a .485 winning percentage and include the A's, Royals, Rockies, Nationals, Guardians, and Yankees.

Put another way, while the Red Sox must still face three first-place teams, the Jays will see five of baseball's six last-place teams. That's not a recipe for making a comeback.

And so that's why the whole endeavor suddenly feels incredibly tenuous. When the Red Sox lost two of three in Washington, they at least still had the potential for a bounceback series in New York, because the Yankees are disintegrating.

But if they lose this series, they're going to have to get it back against the Dodgers. And if that doesn't work, then it's the Astros again. The rest of the schedule barely lets them up for air, whether it's Rays-Orioles, or Jays-Rangers, or a Tampa-Baltimore finish.

The Red Sox have played well against good teams all year, and they've found ways to surprise us just when it seemed they were cooked, but at some point, it's simply too much. This finally feels like that time.