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Buckley: Easy September schedule raises questions about Red Sox

September 21, 2017 GMT

It’s impossible not to be impressed with the Red Sox these days. They are, after all, playing their best ball of the season.

And that’s rather amazing when you consider that Major League Baseball isn’t allowing them to cheat anymore.

Yet despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s Apple Watch recall, thus ending a sign-stealing campaign that Accountability John Farrell knew nothing about, the Impossible Scheme Red Sox are rolling.

They went into last night’s series finale against the Baltimore Orioles having won 10 of their last 13 games. With their 11-inning, 1-0 victory over the wait-til-next-year Orioles Tuesday night they improved their record in extra innings to an it-must-be-a-typo 15-3. They went to bed Tuesday night a season-high 23 games over .500.

Even NESN is rallying: Jerry Remy is making appearances in the booth and has teamed up with Dennis Eckersley and David O’Brien to create a triple-wow play-by-play team. Plus, former big league second baseman Todd Walker, who gave the Sox a quality season in 2003, has shown signs of promise in his stints with O’Brien. (And if Walker hasn’t been asked to audition for some voiceover work it means his agent isn’t doing his/her job.)

It’s vitally important that the Red Sox are winning all these games, because the second-place Yankees refuse to fall through the trap door that leads to one-and-done Wildcard Land. The Yanks have won 10 of their last 12 games, finishing off a three-game sweep of the Twins yesterday afternoon to pull within 21/2 games of the Sox.

What we have, then, is a good, old-fashioned, knock-down, drag-out battle for first place between the Red Sox and Yankees — only without the knocking down and the dragging out. Sadly — and, frankly, inexplicably — that’s what’s missing from these last weeks of the regular season: No Sox-Yankees games.

It only seems like the Sox and Yankees haven’t played since 1973. The reality is that they met in the Bronx Aug.?31-Sept. 3, with the Yankees outscoring the Sox 21-9 en route to winning three out of four games. That was the end of the season series between the two teams, with the Yankees winning 11-of-19 meetings.

But it’s not just the lack of a late-September series against the Yankees that’s taken some of the sizzle away from the first-place Sox. It’s the lack of a game against, well, anyone. Back in July, when I was blathering on and on about how the Red Sox were going to win the AL East by nine games, part of my reasoning was that the September couch was littered with throw pillows called the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds.

These teams are all, to be kind, rebuilding. And the Red Sox keep knocking over the scaffolding.

I haven’t been wrong about the Red Sox. What I’ve been wrong about is the Yankees, who have remained within sniffing distance of first place.

But while the Red Sox are proving it’s not just an Apple a day that keeps the losses away, they also haven’t played the kind of competition that gets you fired up for the postseason.

This isn’t to say the Sox haven’t been fun. They have been fun. Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to make the great grabs, Drew Pomeranz continues to prove he’s for real, and it was really cool to see Blake Swihart return from his season-long banishment to Pawtucket and reach first on a perfectly executed 11th-inning bunt.

The Red Sox needn’t apologize for their soft September schedule. Truth to tell, it didn’t look all that soft back in spring training. Who knew the Jays and Orioles would be so clunky? So the Red Sox are winning games they’re supposed to be winning, which is fine, but if the town isn’t going nuts it’s because the entire season has turned into this: Win in the postseason or else. You’d think a team that’s won three World Series championships over the past 13 seasons would get a little leeway, but . . . no.

These are the David Price Red Sox now, not the David Ortiz Red Sox. The Sox have a different feel and a light September and everyone’s sitting around and waiting for October.

Which is weird considering the Yankees remain very much a threat to make a run for first place.

But this entire season has been weird, don’t you think?