Sox still upbeat, in AL East driver's seat

Club has watched division lead shrink from 5 games to 2 after losing 4 of 5

Sox still upbeat, in AL East driver's seat

BOSTON -- In a scenario that seemed highly unlikely when the week started, the American League East title is still unsettled with two games to play in the regular season.

But one thing hasn't changed. The Red Sox are still in first place, a spot they've held since Aug. 1. Their magic number for clinching their second straight AL East crown is one.

After Boston's 3-2 loss to the Astros on Friday night at Fenway Park, the lead was down to two games over the Yankees for the first time since Aug. 3.

How are the Red Sox holding up?

"We have a great mindset," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "It's not easy, man. Going into a season, you set goals as a team. They're difficult to accomplish. We know that. There's going to be ups and downs. It takes everyone to do it."

While the final homestand has hardly been ideal, with four losses in the first five games and three games getting chopped off their lead in the division, the Red Sox remain in the driver's seat.

They simply have to win on either Saturday or Sunday, or have the Yankees lose on either Saturday or Sunday to Toronto. If any of those four scenarios unfold, Boston wins the division.

A Saturday clinch is a much more enviable scenario for the Red Sox because they'd be able to avoid pitching ace Chris Sale on the final day of the regular season, which would jeopardize his chances of starting Game 1 of a potential AL Division Series presented by Doosan vs. either the Astros or the Indians.

To a man, the Red Sox say they aren't rattled after a tough stretch this week.

"Well, I think the obvious thing is to go out and put together a solid game and win," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Our destiny is controlled by us, particularly as it relates to the final two days and the division. We've got to go out and win a game."

Farrell on 3-2 loss

Either that, or the Yankees have to go out and lose one.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy," said Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts. "If it was easy, it wouldn't be fun."

If things don't go as the Red Sox hope, and the Yankees catch them over the final two days, the forever rivals would play a one-game tiebreaker for the AL East title on Monday in New York. The Yankees could have ultra-talented Luis Severino start that game, while the Red Sox would likely counter with Rick Porcello.

The winner of that game would earn a spot in the ALDS, and the loser would host the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday.

As exciting as that type of drama would be for baseball fans, the Red Sox will do all they can to avoid it and get some rest before the postseason.

Drew Pomeranz goes after his 17th win on Saturday. The Astros counter with Lance McCullers Jr.

"We're in first place in the best division in baseball," said Pedroia. "So we'll come out tomorrow and play as hard as we can like we did tonight and see what happens."

Farrell doesn't sense any change in demeanor from a team that had just won nine of 10 and 14 of 17 before this final homestand started.

"There's good energy in the dugout," Farrell said. "There's, I think, a loose conversation that goes on in the clubhouse, goes on in the dugout during the game. So we just go out and play the game of baseball that we're not only capable of, but the style and brand of baseball that we play. And that is to be aggressive and that is to lead the way from the mound."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.