OK, while I will receive plenty of hate mail for saying this, I think it needs to be said:

The Red Sox will not win the AL East.

And they will barely hold on to the Wild Card.

The latter statement was different about 45 minutes ago. I was ready to write this season off for the Red Sox. With a suddenly shaky bullpen and two superstars unable to hit their way out of a barn, it wasn’t looking pretty.

Until you look at the schedule.

And that is somewhat pretty.

The Sox finish with 21 games against sub-.500 records. Of the other Wild Card contenders, Seattle has 20 games against sub-.500 teams, while Cleveland has 18 and Detroit has 17.

Let me back up for one second, just to explain my prediction about the AL East. The Sox finish with a tough homestand against Oakland and Minnesota, two teams that will be looking to play the role of spoiler, especially after not meeting expectations this season.

The Yankees finish on the road in Tampa Bay and Baltimore. No expectations.

You tell me who is sitting pretty.

And, yes, this division will come down to the final week, just like it should.

In terms of the Wild Card, you can eliminate either Cleveland or Detroit, as they will beat up on each other and Detroit is struggling at the wrong time of year.

Seattle may be the team to watch out for.

Earlier this year, I was discussing the AL West with an Angels beat reporter and I asked him who he thought would make a run with Los Angeles. He surprised me by saying Seattle. I just laughed and told him that he was out of his mind.

But one Ichiro Suzuki mega-contract, one manager quitting in midseason and 34 J.J. Putz saves later, the Mariners seem to have the right mix for a playoff run.

The difference between Boston and Seattle is that the Mariners’ offensive superstars are producing. Adrian Beltre is in the running for Comeback Player of the Year, Suzuki is almost impossible to get out, Jose Vidro is hitting .317 and Richie Sexson . . . well, he doesn’t help me illustrate my point.

Meanwhile, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez both continue to sputter for the Sox, and Youkilis and Pedroia can only carry this team so far. And, don’t even ask me, “Well, what about Mike Lowell?” You should be walked to the end of a pier if you think Lowell can lead the Sox into the playoffs. He isn’t Albert Pujols.

As for pitching, the Sox have the advantage, even with Eric Gagne blowing late leads. The bullpens are a wash, but with Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield leading the way, the Red Sox should be able to outpitch a Mariner rotation that includes cast-offs Jarrod Washburn and Jeff Weaver.

Sox fans may be getting hyped up about those final six games with the Yankees, but make sure to keep the corner of your eye on the scoreboard.

Seattle’s results may mean more in the long run.


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