- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Nobody is going to feel sorry for a team with a payroll scraping the luxury tax ceiling, but the Boston Red Sox have the sort of second-half schedule that might require grappling hooks to climb over. Their game against the New York Yankees on Friday was the first of 23 consecutive games against teams with records over .500, and of their last 80 games, 63 of those are against teams with records over .500 -- including 16 against the Yankees.
How does that compare with the other AL teams? Well, put it this way: The odds of both AL wild-card teams coming out of the AL East are not good, because those five clubs are going to beat the heck out of each other.
Here are the second-half AL schedules for contenders -- with apologies to Kansas City, Minnesota and Seattle -- ranked from easiest to toughest.
Home/away: 36 of the Indians' final 77 games are at home.
Games against teams with records over .500: 33
Schedule notes: The Indians have just seven games left against the Yankees and Red Sox.
The Big Finish: The Indians finish the year with four series against the Royals and the White Sox -- six on the road, and then six at home.
Home/away: 35 of Chicago's last 77 games are at home.
Games against teams with records over .500: 37
Schedule notes: The Tigers aren't over .500, but they remain a formidable team, especially on the days Justin Verlander pitches, and the White Sox have nine games left against Detroit.
The Big Finish: Six of Chicago's last 10 games are against Cleveland, with the other four against Tampa Bay.
Home/away: 38 of their final 76 games are at home.
Games against teams with records over .500: 38.
Schedule notes: The Angels still have 13 games against the Rangers remaining on their schedule.
The Big Finish: The Angels' last six games are on the road, with three games at Texas and three games at Seattle.
Home/away: 36 of their last 76 are in Arlington.
Games against teams with records over .500: 44.
Schedule notes: Texas has a fair number of games remaining against the AL East teams, including a home-and-road series against the Rays, and against the Red Sox.
The Big Finish: Seven of the Rangers' final 10 games are against Oakland.
Home/away: 39 of their last 77 are at Camden Yards.
Games against teams with records over .500: 51.
Schedule Notes: The Orioles play their final game against the Yankees on Sept. 9.
The Big Finish: Baltimore's final 12 games will be against AL East teams, including six games versus the Red Sox.
Home/away: 39 of Detroit's last 76 games are in Comerica Park.
Games against teams over .500: 54.
Schedule notes: Detroit's first 29 games after the All-Star break are against teams with records over .500, a staggering number.
The Big Finish: The Tigers might have the easiest schedule among all contenders down the stretch, with their final 13 games against the Royals (7) and the Twins (6). While the Indians and White Sox will play a lot in the last weeks of the season, the Tigers will be done with Cleveland and Chicago by Sept. 16.
Home/away: 39 of the Jays' 76 games are in Toronto.
Games against teams with records over .500: 54.
Schedule notes: The Jays may hit the crossroads of their season starting on July 30, when they open a 10-game road trip -- and then return home for a series with the Yankees.
The Big Finish: Toronto will close out with seven straight games at home, with four against the Yankees and three against the Twins.
Home/away: 40 of their last 77 games are at home.
Games against teams with records over .500: 57.
Schedule notes: All of the AL East teams have a bunch of games against each other, but in late September, the Yankees will have a respite -- six games against the Athletics and Twins from Sept. 21-26.
The Big Finish: The Yankees will host the Red Sox in a three-game series to end the season.
Home/away: 39 of their final 76 are at home.
Games against teams with records over .500: 58.
Schedule notes: After Aug. 25, every game the Rays are scheduled to play are against teams that went into play Friday with a winning record -- 35 consecutive games.
The Big Finish: Six of the Rays' final nine games are on the road, with the final three games at home against the Orioles.
10. Boston Red Sox
Home/away: 36 of their final 76 are in Fenway Park.
Games against teams with records over .500: 59.
Schedule notes: In late August, the Red Sox will start a nine-game road trip that will take them through Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle.
Big Finish: Boston's final six games are on the road, with three in Baltimore and three in Yankee Stadium.
Home/away: 37 of Oakland's final 76 games will be played in the Coliseum.
Games against teams with records over .500: 61.
Schedule notes: The Athletics have 13 games remaining against the Rays and Yankees, which is part of the reason why their second-half schedule is so tough.
Big Finish: Oakland's last six games are at home, against Seattle and Texas.
• Although the Angels lost on Friday, Mike Trout mashed his 11th homer. If Trout finishes the year with 140 games, his current pace would take him to these numbers: 196 hits, 54 walks, 124 runs, 24 homers, 88 RBI, 65 extra-base hits, 58 stolen bases.
And he's on pace to turn 21 in August.
As usual, the Red Sox and Yankees played a really, really long game.
From Elias: The Yankees-Red Sox game was tied at 5-5 after one inning. It's the first MLB game in which each team scored five runs in the first since Aug. 29, 2005 (Indians 6, Tigers 5) It's the first time the Yankees have had such a game since May 11, 2005 (Yankees 5, Mariners 5).
It's the first time the Red Sox have had such a game since April 13, 1984 (Tigers 8, Red Sox 5).
It's the first time ever in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in which each team scored at least five runs in the first inning.
It is also the first MLB game in more than three years in which both teams batted around in the first inning. That last happened on April 14, 2009, when the Red Sox scored three runs at Oakland, and then Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up five in the bottom of the inning.
From Elias: Robinson Cano has driven in a run in each of his past nine games. It's the longest RBI streak by a player who played second base in every game of the streak since the spring of 2008 when Chase Utley also knocked home a run in nine straight games. It's tied for the longest such streak by any major-league player this season. The nine-game streak is also the longest by a second baseman in Yankees history. Carlos Beltran's nine-game streak of that kind ended earlier this week.
From Elias: Friday was the first time in Josh Beckett's 28 regular-season starts against the Yankees that he has allowed at least five runs in the first inning. It is the first time he has allowed five in the first since last season -- he allowed five to the Mariners on Aug. 13, 2011.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Diamondbacks have let other teams know that they are willing to trade Justin Upton, for the right package. This reminds some executives of the Rockies' marketing of Ubaldo Jimenez last summer. "They wouldn't be pushing it this hard in the middle of the year," said one official, "unless they really wanted him out of there."
Upton is owed about $45 million for the rest of his contract, which runs through the 2015 season. Upton and the Diamondbacks ended their losing streak.
2. Stephen Strasburg's schedule depends on what he does in the All-Star Game.
3. The Nationals will keep long-term goals in mind at the trade deadline, says Mark Lerner.
5. The sale of the Padres won't be completed for a while, writes Bill Center.
Dings and dents
1. There is no timetable for Matt Joyce's return, as mentioned within this Marc Topkin notebook.
Strasburg was nicked for some runs.
Buster Olney ranks the second-half schedules for every American League playoff contender, from easiest to toughest.