Assessing Red Sox's playoff chances

At 49-49, the Red Sox are at .500 this late in the season for the first time since 1996. They are on pace to finish in last place in the AL East for the first time since 1992.

Yet, with the new expanded wild card system, all is not lost.

The optimist notes that the Red Sox enter Wednesday’s play a mere four games out of the final wild card spot

The pessimist counters with the fact that the Sox has six teams standing between them and that final spot. Boston has the fourth-worst record (tied) in the AL.

With the top five teams in each league bound for the postseason, the dynamics have changed significantly.

Consider that since 1996, the wild card team has averaged 93 wins. The team with the fifth best record has averaged 89.

Those four wins are keeping Boston’s season alive.

The Athletics, currently in the driver’s seat for that fifth spot, are on pace for 88 wins. So that 89 number appears just about on target. Boston needs to finish 40-24 over the final 64 games to reach 89 wins. That’s playing at a .625 winning percentage, higher than any team currently has in the majors.

That’s not unprecedented. In three of the previous eight seasons (2004, ’05 and ’08), Boston posted a winning percentage of .620 or higher from August until the end of the season.

On paper, a healthy Red Sox squad has the talent to be baseball’s best team over the final two months of the season. However, that’s ignoring the reality of the past year.

Logic says that the Indians and Blue Jays don’t have the pitching to keep this up. Yet, the Red Sox rotation has a higher ERA.

The A’s, White Sox and Orioles aren’t supposed to be this good. Can they possibly keep it up? Forget just this season. All three have been better than the Red Sox over the past calendar year. Since last July 25, Boston is 77-84. That’s the fourth worst record in the AL (not to mention 19 games back of the Yankees).

As assembled, the Red Sox are supposed to be a World Series contender. But they’ve yet to even show a glimpse of that dominance in 2012. Boston hasn’t won three straight games in over a month. The Red Sox haven’t won more than five straight all season. This is the 13th time that Boston has been .500 this season.

The Sox might be four games out of the final wild card, but more than anything it’s expectation that keeps them a contender. Four games may seem like nothing, but the odds are long.

AccuScore puts a number to that. Entering Tuesday, the Red Sox made the postseason in 9.8 percent of their 10,000 simulations.

In other words, Boston has a one-in-10 chance of playing in a one-game playoff.

With the July 31 trade deadline less than a week away, the Red Sox need to decide if those odds are worth making a push.