by Bill Murphy

This has not been a particularly easy season for the Boston Red Sox. Yet, with about five weeks remaining in the 2017 baseball season, the Sox are in the play-offs by six games. Following a losing streak against Cleveland and Baltimore, the Yankees have crawled back into the picture, BUT, does anyone really think, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Angels OR anyone else can actually beat Boston out for a play-off position? That’s what I thought. So count them in.

OBVIOUSLY, winning a division title is what 2017 is all about, BUT, surviving and staying alive to play some more comes first. The reason I am so adamant that the Sox have already earned a spot in the post season IS, IF the Sox go 15-15 the rest of the way, one of the Wild Card contenders other than the Yankees, would have to go 22-8 to beat them out and I don’t believe, ANY of them could do that.

Just as things have been ever since the Red Sox moved ahead of the Yankees, it all in the end comes down to how healthy they are and how their pitching lines up and fares in October. Looking today at those prospects, one new concern has reared its’ head in the last few weeks. Chris Sale, the supposed savior and leading man, has proven to not be his effective self versus Cleveland and at this moment, the Indians are lined up to be Boston’s first round opponent. The most important thing presently is, that Boston work on having their roster in the healthiest state possible come October.

In basketball, everything in the postseason is concentrated on the match-ups. The term is not always mentioned in baseball, BUT, IF Cleveland does really have Sales number, this will certainly reduce Boston’s chances to advance. The Sox are studying tape daily, with the present focus aimed at whether Sale is somehow tipping his pitches and the Indians have picked that up.

In addition, two very important things to watch, besides the Sox battle with the Yankees, is how the Bostonians fare in the home field battle with Houston and Cleveland. Once earlier in the season, it seemed the Astros would run away and hide for the best overall record in the American League, BUT, injuries helped bring them back to earth. Recent Sox losses have allowed Houston to move 4 1/2 games up in the competition, BUT, the two teams conclude the regular season with four games at Fenway Park, SO, who knows. Keep an eye on that.

Cleveland and Boston are relatively dead even in the standings entering play Wednesday and both teams have almost the exact same number of games against teams still battling to reach the play-offs. The Sox have 17 games in that category and the Indians have 18 with the one game difference coming down to last nights rained out game between the Indian and the Yankees. The Sox and Indians have finished their head to head encounters.

How important is homefield advantage in baseball in the post season? Let me give you just one 2017 Red Sox stat: the Sox are 40-25 at home and 35-32 on the road. Hopefully enough said to make John Farrell think twice before resting his regulars the last few days of this season, like he did in 2016 and in the process take away any momentum the team had built down the stretch.

Here are a few things we picked up while relaxing and enjoying the recent beautiful weather:

Now that I am really getting along in my years, I kind of have created a little bucket list. At one time, I use to say, I would like to do that someday, BUT, now, I put things down on a list and have priority sections. Tonight, I am going to do one of the things on my list.

People told me a couple of years ago, that the former New Britain Eastern League Baseball Franchise was moving to Hartford, where they were going to build a new stadium. The new field named Dunkin Donuts Park was expected to open early in the 2016 baseball season. Construction delays and a cost overrun caused it not to open at all until April 14, 2017.

I was on board to attend the Grand Opening, BUT, the Red Sox were rained out of a game with Pittsburgh during their opening series at Fenway Park and the make-up date became the 14th. My schedule became busy and low and behold, I was pushed back to tonight.

Last week an article was published in Sports Weekly that said Dunkin Donuts Park was named 2017’s best new ball park, rated even ahead of the Atlanta Braves new gem, Sun Trust Park. Despite all the parks I have seen over the years, I am excited to see the Hartford park tonight. The Hartford Yard Goats are one of the worst teams in the league on the field and have never been a leader in attendance, BUT, this time around, they are filling the park more often than not, and tickets have been close to impossible to get down the stretch.

COMPLETE GAMES-  The Red Sox have thrown five complete games this season. Their opponents have only thrown one complete game against the Red Sox. Complete games have become a lost art.

Thirty years ago, Phil Niekro, pitching for Cleveland at the time, pitched his final complete game at the age of 48. By the way, Niekro tossed 21 complete games following his 44th birthday. Who said the game hasn’t changed that much?

A few more baseball (Sox specific) items to chew on before the high school football season kicks off Friday night:

The Red Sox are tied for the fourth best record in major league baseball. Only the Dodgers, Nationals and Astros have a better win percentage.

Many make a great deal about the July 31st trade deadline. The Red Sox added a couple of important pieces near that date and brought up one player from Portland. Eduardo Nunez, Addison Reed and Rafael Devers were not names that excited fans around baseball on the surface, BUT, they have certainly given Boston a shot in the arm. The Red Sox have the second-best record in the game since July 31st, with only the freight train Dodgers earning a better one.

By the way, in case you missed it, the Red Sox win last night moved John Farrell into a tie with Jimy Williams on the all-time Red Sox victory list with 414, 7th all-time in Sox history.