When looking at the remaining schedule for the Red Sox, it’s hard not have both some anxiety and some hope. The final 23 games of the season are against AL East foe, including 6 against the team just in front of them in the standings (Toronto Blue Jays) and 7 against the team right behind them in the standings (Baltimore Orioles) which offer incredible opportunity for both rising and falling int he standings. On paper the most winnable games are the 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays, but so far in 2016, that’s been far from a foregone conclusion. Thus far in 2016, the Red Sox are 8-7 against the AL East bottom-dwellers, who currently sit with a 56-75 overall record.
Of the last 5 games the Red Sox and Rays have played head-to-head, 4 have been decided by just 1 run including last night’s 4-3 Rays victory. These two teams seem to have a knack for keeping games close into the late innings when one big play or hit becomes a turning point. Last night that was Evan Longoria‘s massive game-winning HR against Clay Buchholz in the 8th inning of a tie game. Despite having a terrible overall record, there is something about this year’s Rays team that just believes they can take down the Red Sox, regardless of their overall talent level. The reason? Familiarity.
The way baseball schedules are set-up, divisional rivals generally match-up 19 times throughout the course of an 162 game season. By the time the team is playing their 9th and 10th games against each other, they are intimately aware of strengths and weaknesses and have likely seen a lot of the opponent’s pitching staff. Then factor in players who spend multiple seasons in the division and the familiarity level sky-rockets. When players feel comfortable with a match-up, regardless of their season successes or failures overall, they can be more comfortable in their approach at the plate. It doesn’t always work that way, but it has certainly help the Rays in their time against the Red Sox this season.
The remaining games against the Blue Jays and Orioles are critical for making the postseason, but don’t sleep on the 7 against the surging New York Yankees and the 4 remaining against the Tampa Bay Rays either. Every single game is huge from now until the beginning of October so strap in and come along for the ride.