Red Sox' remaining schedule is impossibly bad news for wild card race

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Tomase: Red Sox' remaining schedule is bad news for playoff hopes originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If you want to know why the odds are against the Red Sox making the playoffs, forget about the trade deadline, injuries, or underperformance. Just check out the schedules.

Playing in the AL East exacts a toll, and nowhere is that more acutely felt than in the race for the final wild card spot. The Blue Jays and Mariners currently hold the top two spots, with the .500 Red Sox looking up at the Rays, Guardians, Orioles, and White Sox.

If we assume the Jays are safe, Boston's clearest path to the playoffs may actually pass through Tampa, because the schedules of the non-division contenders are cake by comparison.

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Only Tampa has a tougher remaining strength of schedule (.532) than the Red Sox (.528). The White Sox (.467) and Mariners (.472) boast the easiest paths to October. At those winning percentages, it's the equivalent of the Red Sox facing an 85-win team like AL Central-leading Twins the rest of the way, while the White Sox get the 75-win Marlins.

Those odds aren't in their favor, particularly considering the Red Sox have only 16 games remaining against teams with losing records, the lowest total among wild card contenders. The Mariners (38) and White Sox (36) should feast, thanks not only to playing in terrible divisions, but also in seeing the worst the other's division has to offer, too.

Let's break down the contenders to see just how steep a hill the Red Sox must climb.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 50-50

Games remaining: 62

Strength of schedule: .528

Games against teams with losing records: 16

The skinny: The emergence of the Orioles could really hose Boston's chances. The two clubs play each other 11 more times, and those games aren't the automatic Ws we all assumed in April.

If the Red Sox are to steal a second wild card for the division, they'll have to do it by surviving a steady diet of Yankees (nine games), Rays (nine), and Jays (six), too. The final two weeks are an absolute killer, with one series against each AL East rival, including three games in Toronto that could see the team at less than full strength, thanks to Canada's vaccine mandates.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 53-46

Games remaining: 63

Strength of schedule: .532

Games against teams with losing records: 17

The skinny: Tampa's chances suddenly look shaky, especially after season-ending injuries to slugging catcher Mike Zunino and Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, as well as the continued absence of start shortstop Wander Franco, who could be out until September while recovering from wrist surgery.

The Rays just lost three of four to the Orioles to fall a half game behind the Mariners, and their schedule is even slightly more brutal than Boston's, thanks to 11 games against the Jays and six each against the division-leading Twins and Astros.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 50-49

Games remaining: 63

Strength of schedule: .502

Games against teams with losing records: 18

The skinny: Here's where things get interesting. Baltimore has played way over its head for more than six weeks now, and if the Orioles want to shock the game by playing in October, a path exists. The O's are pretty much done with the Yankees and Rays, but must play a staggering 15 games vs. the Jays and 11 vs. the Red Sox.

Making hay against the latter could effectively KO the Sox, but they'll need to survive against Toronto. With three games each against the Guardians and White Sox, as well, the Orioles control their own fate as thoroughly as any of the remaining contenders, as improbable as that seems.

Cleveland Guardians

Record: 50-48

Games remaining: 64

Strength of schedule: .492

Games against teams with losing records: 25

The skinny: Cleveland may yet win the Central after pulling within two games of the Twins, who have led every day except one since late April.

Thanks to 12 games against the Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles, the Guardians will have to contend with the AL East more than their division rivals. They do, however, close the season with a rare six-game series vs. the woeful Royals, who have already begun stripping the roster for parts. If Terry Francona's crew can stay within striking distance, the opportunity will be there at the end.

Seattle Mariners

Record: 54-46

Games remaining: 62

Strength of schedule: .472

Games against teams with losing records: 38

The skinny: There's a reason the Mariners boast 80 percent playoff odds, and the schedule plays a big role. Once they finish with the Astros and Yankees next week, only 18 of their final 56 games will be against teams with winning records. And their absolute easiest stretch comes last, with 20 straight games against the Angels, A's, Royals, Rangers, and Tigers to close out the regular season.

The Red Sox own a tie-breaker with Seattle after winning the season series, but it's hard to imagine it will matter.

Chicago White Sox

Record: 49-49

Games remaining: 64

Strength of schedule: .467

Games against teams with losing records: 36

The skinny: You have to wonder where the White Sox would be if they'd just follow the lead of the Jays and fire an underachieving manager. Since jettisoning Charlie Montoyo, Toronto is 9-2. The White Sox, meanwhile, have all the talent to make a similar turnaround under anyone other than 77-year-old Tony La Russa, but don't seem inclined to make a move.

They're still in prime position either to win the division or a wild card, though, because their schedule presents a fattening array of Royals (11), Tigers (nine), Angels (seven), and Rangers (four), with a smattering of Diamondbacks and Rockies thrown in for dessert.