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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
A's a game back of Sox for top AL record

By Gordon Edes

DENVER -- Greetings from the Mile High City, where it has been reliably reported that the Red Sox were present en masse when Wes Welker caught 7 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown Monday night in the Broncos’ win over the Raiders. Not sure how many of them channeled the immortal Bob Lobel and asked, “Why can’t we get players like this?’’

* The three division winners -- the Red Sox, Tigers, and Athletics -- have now played the same number of games, 157, after the Athletics beat the Angels, 10-5, and the Tigers lost in 11 innings, 4-3, to the Twins while the Sox were off Monday night. The Sox are 95-62, one game ahead of the Athletics (94-63) for best overall record in the league, with the Tigers (91-66) four games back.

The magic number for the Sox to eliminate the Tigers from the race for home-field advantage through the postseason is two. Any combination of Sox wins and Tigers losses, and Detroit is done. The magic number to eliminate the Athletics is five. Any combo of Sox wins and Athletics losses totaling five, and the Sox are No. 1.

"To finish the season out we’ve got five tough games ahead of us," manager John Farrell said. "I think to secure home-field advantage, evident by the way we play at home and the way we embrace our environment, it would be a very good thing."

In the event the Sox and Athletics tie, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head: The Sox and Athletics split six games, so that won’t resolve anything. Next tie-breaker is record within the division: The teams are in a virtual tie there, too: The Sox are 43-30 in the AL East, the Athletics are 42-29. The Sox have three games left against an AL East rival, in Baltimore over the weekend. The Athletics’ last five games are against AL West teams, the Angels (2) and Mariners (3).

The third tie-breaker is the team’s record in the second half, minus interleague games, and here the Athletics hold the edge, at least for now. Oakland is 38-24 in the second half, but two of those losses were against the Reds, so for tie-breaker purposes, they are 38-22, a .633 percentage. The Sox are 37-23 in the second half, but they played nine interleague games -- three apiece against the Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers, winning 6 and losing 3. So for tie-breaker purposes, they are 31-20, a .607 percentage.

It gets complicated, doesn’t it? And a reminder on why the best record is so important. Not only does the team ensure itself home field advantage throughout the playoffs, it faces the winner of the one-game wild card playoff instead of a division winner.

The Athletics profited immensely from having the lowly Astros in their division. They went 15-4 against Houston; they’re just 27-25 against the rest of the division.

The Astros game Sunday against the Indians, by the way, drew a 0.0 Nielsen rating, according to the Houston Chronicle. A rerun of “The Cosby Show” drew a 0.5.

* The Sox would have to run the table and win their last five games to finish with 100 wins, something that has been done only three times in team history: 1946, 1915 and 1912. The ’12 team still has the best record in club history: 105-47, a .691 winning percentage.

* The Sox have a major-league best run-differential of plus-185. That is a swing of 257 runs from last season, when they were minus-72. According to Sox crack statman Jon Shestakofsky, only two teams in club history have had a larger swing: the ’46 club, plus-273 from the year before; and the 1933 Sox, with a plus-291. Funny thing about that ’33 team: They finished seventh in an eight-team league, but were following the team that lost a club-record 111 losses in 1932.

Here are the three teams with the best run-differential in 2013:
1. Boston, plus-185
2. Detroit, plus-172
3. St. Louis, plus-167

Carl Yastrzemski
Yaz was all smiles at his statue unveiling.
* I thought it was just me, but I noticed some of the posters at Sons of Sam Horn also thought that the Yaz statue bore a striking facial resemblance to Bobby Orr.

But how often have we seen this: Yaz, with a huge smile on his face.

* The Sox are hoping Jacoby Ellsbury returns here Wednesday, and if not, Friday in Baltimore. Even if he doesn’t steal another base, Ellsbury should lead the majors for the second time in his career, and win his third stolen base title in the American League. Assuming he is not caught stealing the rest of the season, Ellsbury will finish with the highest stolen-base percentage among players with 50 or more steals in a season since at least 1951, which is the first season “caught stealing” was reliably reported. Ellsbury is 52-of-56, a 92.857 percent success rate. Jerry Mumphrey of the Padres stole 52 bases in 1980 but was caught five times, a 91.228 percent rate.

* The Sox collectively have succeeded in their last 36 stolen-base attempts, the longest streak in club history and longest since the Blue Jays stole 38 straight straight in 1993. The Jays went on to win the World Series that season but weren’t quite as successful running the bases in the postseason: They stole 14 bases in 20 chances, a 70 percent success rate.

Sox reserve Quintin Berry, by the way, was 21-for-21 last season in stolen bases. Only Chase Utley, who was 23-for-23 for the Phillies in 2009, has stolen more bases in a season without being caught since ’51. Alcides Escobar of the Royals is 21-for-21 this season.

* Farrell became the seventh man to take the Sox to the postseason in his first year as manager. He joins Jake Stahl (1912), Ed Barrow (1918), Dick Williams (1967), Joe Morgan (1988), Kevin Kennedy (1995) and Terry Francona (2004). Stahl, Barrow and Francona all won World Series in their first year.

* Highest WAR (wins above replacement) on the Red Sox? Dustin Pedroia’s 6.3, tied for sixth in the league with the Orioles’ Chris Davis. Pedroia also has a 2.5 WAR defensive rating, third in the league behind Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (4.4) and Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain (2.8). It’s also the highest defensive WAR of Pedroia’s career. Two Sox outfielders also cracked the top 10 in defensive WAR: Shane Victorino is seventh at 2.1, Ellsbury ninth at 2.0.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout leads the league with a 9.1 WAR.

* David Ortiz needs one home run for his seventh career 30-home run season, which will move him past Manny Ramirez for second most in club history behind Ted Williams (8). Ortiz needs two more RBIs for his seventh 100-RBI season, which would move him into third, behind Williams (9) and Jim Rice (8).

Ortiz is batting .307. He could become the seventh player in major league history, 37 or older, to hit .300, with 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs, joining Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, and Andres Galarraga.

* And for all the attention that has been focused on Ellsbury entering his free-agent year, the Sox player who has placed himself in the best position for a huge pay raise is free-agent-to-be Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who along with Brian McCann of the Braves will be the top two catchers on the market this season. Saltalamacchia made great advances behind the plate defensively, has answered all questions regarding his durability with a career-high 107 starts, and has a .797 OPS, which ranks fourth among all big-league catchers with 400 or more plate appearances. He hit fewer home runs this season (13) but his 38 doubles rank second among catchers to Yadier Molina’s 41. At 28, he is a year younger than McCann. Saltalamacchia was paid $4.5 million this season. That figure should more than double in free agency.