Tomase: 2001 Mariners look safe, because Red Sox have little chance at 116 wins, even less motivation

John Tomase
August 13, 2018 - 2:58 pm
Mookie Betts grand slam Blue Jays Red Sox

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

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Until the playoffs begin, the Red Sox can occupy the final six weeks of the season with pursuits like Mookie Betts hitting for the cycle (check), J.D. Martinez's Triple Crown bid (if Mookie gets out of his way), or Chris Sale taking home his first Cy Young award (Sunday was a step in the right direction).

But there's a team accomplishment lurking within their reach, too: the 2001 Seattle Mariners.

Those M's of Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, and Ichiro fame set a modern record by winning 116 games (tying the 1906 Cubs). They outscored opponents by exactly 300 runs and didn't lose more than two in a row until the final week of September.

At 85-35, the Red Sox have an outside shot at catching them, though it won't be easy. With 42 games remaining, starting Tuesday in Philadelphia, the Red Sox must go 32-10 to surpass Seattle's mark. That's a .761 winning percentage, which is a good deal higher than their current 114-win .708 pace, but a good deal lower than the .829 clip (29-6) they've played at since losing two of three in New York to open July.

So how doable is this quest? Not very, if we're being objective.

For one, there's the caliber of competition. During their last 35 games, the Red Sox have faced two potential playoff teams -- the Phillies and Yankees -- for a total of six games. During their final 42 games, however, they face five clubs with playoff aspirations -- the Phillies (2), Braves (3), Indians (7), Astros (3), and Yankees (6) -- for a total of 21 games. That's half.

Even if they go unbeaten in their other 21 against the Rays, White Sox, Blue Jays, Mets, and Orioles (and the odds of that are effectively zero), they'd still need to play better than .500 against the other contenders to catch Seattle. They're currently 19-16 (.543) against teams either in the playoffs or on the bubble.

The 11 teams remaining on the schedule own a combined winning percentage of .488, though that doesn't take into account how many times the Red Sox will face each of them. If you weigh seven games against the Indians (.564) more than two against the Marlins (.403), then the effective winning percentage of their remaining schedule jumps to .504.

That's not insurmountable, but it's daunting. Making matters less likely, the Yankees have fallen from contention. Had they remained within striking distance, they might've pushed the Red Sox to play their best right to the final weekend. Instead, with Boston leading by 9.5 games, the smart course of action for manager Alex Cora would be to ease off starters like Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello while finding rest for stalwarts such as Betts, Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts.

Unless the Red Sox want to prioritize regular-season accolades over a potential championship, it makes little sense to go all-out for 117 wins.

After all, lest anyone forget, the miracle Mariners didn't even reach the World Series. They ran out of gas in a five-game ALCS against the Yankees, adding a downer of a yeah-but to their historic regular season.

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