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MLB playoff scenarios: Red Sox’ paths to Wild Card, explained

The wildest MLB playoff scenario still on the table could have the Red Sox playing five games in five days in five cities and maybe even two countries.

But after beating the Nationals on Friday night and then staying up late to see the Mariners drop a 2-1 decision to the Angels, the Red Sox now own a much straighter path to the postseason: Win out and they’re in.

Tomase: Red Sox would already be eliminated without savior Renfroe

With two games remaining vs. the Nationals, the Red Sox trail the Yankees by a game and lead the Blue Jays and Mariners by a game each. If the Red Sox sweep the Nats, the only question will be how New York fares vs. Tampa. If the Red Sox finish tied with the Yankees, they’ll host the wild card game in Boston on Tuesday by virtue of winning the season series vs. New York, 10-9.

MLB Wild Card Standings (Oct. 2)

TeamGames Back
Yankees+1
Red Sox0
Blue Jays1
Mariners1

“It’s that roller coaster,” said manager Alex Cora. “It’s fun but it’s not fun. It’s stressful, but it’s not stressful. Of course you really want it in a different way and you can breathe and get ready for next week like some of the teams that have clinched already, but this is where we at. We’ve got to take advantage of every day. Not too many teams can say they’re still in the hunt.”

The real fun starts if the 90-70 Red Sox split or drop their final two and end up tied with two other clubs for the two wild card spots. In that case, tie-breaker games would be required on Monday and Tuesday.

The Red Sox would have their choice of how to play it by virtue of the best overall record vs. the other three teams. They could either host a game on Monday, with the winner earning the first wild card and the loser visiting the remaining team on Tuesday for the second, or they could roll the dice on hosting only the second game, earning an extra day of rest between contests, but giving themselves only one chance to advance.

In this scenario, the Red Sox could play in Washington in Sunday’s season finale, host the Yankees in Boston on Monday, visit Toronto or Seattle on Tuesday, head to New York on Wednesday for the wild card game, and then move on to Tampa on Thursday for the start of the American League Division Series.

Possible Red Sox schedule with three-way wild card tie

DateOpponentRound
Sunday, Oct. 3at NationalsReg. Season
Monday, Oct. 4vs. YankeesWC Tiebreaker, Game 1
Tuesday, Oct. 5at Mariners/Blue JaysWC Tiebreaker, Game 2
Wednesday, Oct. 6at YankeesWild Card Game
Thursday, Oct. 7at RaysALDS Game 1

That’s an itinerary only a political campaign could love, but if it gets the Red Sox to a five-game playoff series, they’ll take it.

The other scenarios require less brain-burning. If all four teams tie at 91-71, then there would be two playoff games on Monday, with the Red Sox hosting either the Yankees or Mariners, and the Blue Jays hosting the other. The winners would then advance to Tuesday’s regularly scheduled wild card game, which would be in Boston if the Red Sox are part of it.

If three teams tie for the second wild card spot, then the Red Sox would face a dilemma. They could choose to host one club Monday and if they win, host the second club on Tuesday to decide who advances. In this scenario, they need to win two games to advance. Alternatively, they could skip the first game and play in only the second, but on the road.

Needless to say, they can render all of these scenarios irrelevant by following the most direct path to the playoffs — just win their last two against one of the worst teams in the National League, and none of this matters.

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