The Red Sox are red hot. And they just might make a run at history.
Boston completed a four-game sweep of the rival Yankees at Fenway Park on Sunday night, heading into Monday's off-day with an MLB-best record of 79-34 (.699) and a 9 1/2-game lead in the American League East.
The Red Sox begin a nine-game road trip on Tuesday night in Toronto enjoying some rare air in the context of MLB history. And with 49 games and a little less than two months remaining in the regular season, they have at least an outside shot at chasing down the 2001 Mariners, who set a modern single-season record with 116 victories (The 1906 Cubs are the only other team to get to 116 wins).
• Most wins in a season
Could the Sox get there? Here are some questions and answers to help frame that pursuit:
Where do the 2018 Red Sox stack up through 113 games?
Quite impressively. In the previous 110 seasons, just 13 teams won at least 79 of their first 113 games.
However, most are not apt comparisons for the 2018 Sox. Nine of the 13 accomplished the feat in 1944 or earlier, before baseball was integrated and when it consisted of 16 teams -- none of them out West.
Take the legendary 1927 Yankees, who also won 79 of their first 113 games (with one tie) and finished 110-44-1 (.714). That club, led by the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, played just seven opponents and racked up a record of 39-5 against the Red Sox and St. Louis Browns, who both had sub-.400 winning percentages.
Since MLB entered the Expansion Era in 1961, this year's Red Sox are the fifth club to win 79 of their first 113 games, joining the '69 Orioles (79 wins), '98 Yankees (84), 2001 Mariners (82) and '17 Dodgers (80).
How did those teams fare for the rest of the season?
Of those previous 13 clubs, six ended the year with at least a .700 winning percentage, which would equate to 114 victories in a 162-game schedule. Here is a look at how the other teams in the Expansion Era finished:
• 2017 Dodgers: 104-58 (.642)
• 2001 Mariners: 116-46 (.716)
• 1998 Yankees: 114-48 (.704)
• 1969 Orioles: 109-53 (.673)
In 2001, Seattle remained strong until the end, going 34-15, including victories in 10 of its final 12 contests. But for a counter-example, consider last year's Dodgers, who were one game better than the '18 Red Sox at the same point. L.A. maintained its pace by winning 11 of the next 14 to get to 91-36. But with leads of 21 games in the National League West and 14 1/2 for the top NL postseason seed, the Dodgers proceeded to lose 16 of their next 17.
How common is a .700-plus winning percentage?
Regardless of how teams have started, finishing at .700 or better has proven extremely difficult. Since the AL began play in 1901, it has happened just 10 times. But four of those occurred within the first decade of the 20th Century, and eight by '54.
Here are the best records posted by teams in the Expansion Era (since 1961):
1. 2001 Mariners: 116-46 (.716)
2. 1998 Yankees: 114-48 (.704)
3. 1995 Indians: 100-44 (.694)
4-T. 1969 Orioles: 109-53 (.673)
4-T. 1961 Yankees: 109-53 (.673)
What would the Red Sox need to do from here?
Tying the 2001 Mariners would require Boston to post a 37-12 (.755) record the rest of the way.
That level of play obviously is a tough task. But it's also clearly within the club's powers, considering that the Sox are coming off a 49-game stretch in which they went 36-13.
This also has been a highly consistent Boston team. First-year manager Alex Cora has endured just one three-game losing streak, which came way back in April. The Sox have a .737 winning percentage at home and .661 on the road, have posted at least a .621 mark in each month and are 18-10 (.643) in one-run games.
Will the schedule help or hinder?
The Red Sox have been especially tough at Fenway Park (42-15), but they won't get to rely on a wave of home dates to get to 116. Of their final 49 games, 25 are on the road.
Boston also will face some tough foes. There are 21 more games against teams that entered Monday with winning records, all of them also currently in postseason position. That includes six against the Yankees, seven against the AL Central-leading Indians, three against the AL West-leading Astros and Interleague series against the top two clubs in the NL East: the Phillies and Braves.
Therefore, the Sox will need to pad their record against less menacing opponents. There will be opportunities for that as well, with seven games on tap against the last-place Orioles (.304), four against the White Sox (.366), three against the Mets (.418) and two against the Marlins (.412). So far this season, Boston has cleaned up against sub-.500 teams, going 48-14 (.774).
The other factor going for the Sox is rest. After Monday, they still have seven more off-days sprinkled throughout the schedule.
Will Boston keep its foot on the gas?
On one hand, the Sox now enjoy MLB's second-largest division lead after their sweep of the Yankees. FanGraphs' postseason projections give them better than a 90 percent chance at a division crown and a 100 percent chance of making the postseason.
In that context, and with rosters expanding in September, it would be understandable for a team to focus more on resting its core players and lining things up for October than on targeting the best possible regular-season record. That certainly could have been a factor for last year's Dodgers -- not that it stopped them from ultimately reaching the World Series.
On the other hand, Boston does have some incentive, beyond a potential Major League record, to keep pushing. Keeping the division lead means avoiding the highly dangerous Wild Card Game, and if the Yankees close the gap over the next six weeks, the rivals play six times over the Red Sox's final 12 games.
It also would serve the Sox well to remain ahead of the Astros -- currently 7 1/2 games behind -- for the top AL seed. While any playoff team is obviously a threat, there would be an advantage to going into the AL Division Series against the winner of the AL Wild Card Game, who likely would have just used its top pitcher. The alternative is facing an Indians club that should be able to head into the postseason well rested and with a rotation featuring Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco.
What do the projections say?
FanGraphs' projections have the Red Sox going 29-20 down the stretch to finish at 108-54 (.667), six games ahead of the Astros for MLB's best record.
Meanwhile, according to ZiPS projections done by FanGraphs' Dan Szymborski, Boston has a 4.1 percent chance of tying Seattle at 116 wins, and a 2.7 percent chance of setting a new MLB record at 117.
Those are long odds, but even if the Sox fall short of the Mariners, they still can make history. If Boston tops the 105-win mark, it would set a new franchise record and lay claim to the most victories in any season since 2001. (The '04 Cardinals were 105-57, and last year's Dodgers were 104-58.)