The Boston Red Sox have looked like one of the best teams in the majors to start the 2021 season, and the league has taken notice. Their pitching has been dominant, and their lineup has been raking all season long. It’s been a marvelous turnaround from the dumpster fire of last season, but this Red Sox team is about to get their first real test of the season in their upcoming three game set against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Boston currently holds a game and a half lead over the Blue Jays in a crowded AL East, with the Tampa Bay Rays only two games out and the New York Yankees two and a half games out. There’s really no margin for error for the Red Sox, and they’ve done a great job holding off these three other teams as they attempt to prove they belong with them in the race for the East. And yet even though we are already more than a quarter of the way through the season, this feels like the Red Sox first real test on the season to see what they are truly made of.
Through 42 games, Boston has only played 18 games against teams with a .500 record or better, and four of those came against the Seattle Mariners who are currently sitting right at .500. Through that lens, it’s clear that this Boston squad hasn’t really faced many playoff caliber teams yet, as the majority of their games have come against teams with losing records. While this isn’t intended to discredit the Red Sox beating up on bad teams, it doesn’t necessarily provide a great indication of how they will be able to stack up against other playoff caliber teams, which is why this series with Toronto is so important.
This series will start to provide us with some of the answers that surround this team. The biggest question of all has to be the bullpen, and whether they can consistently be relied on to close out games. They’ve done their job for the most part, but their most recent loss to the Los Angeles Angels shows that there are some holes in the bullpen that need fixing if this team is going to make anything of their season. If the starters can hold down the fort against a powerful Toronto lineup, the bullpen has got to do their part and effectively close out these games.
The lineup also needs to figure out who the leadoff hitter is going to be. Kike Hernandez has done a pretty solid job of being the table setter, but his production is streaky, and it’s become clear during his absence the lineup needs to be flipped around a bit. The problem is there isn’t really a clear candidate to fill the role, even when Hernandez is active. Him and Alex Verdugo both serve better in the number 2 spot of the lineup, creating a conundrum for Alex Cora each time he has to come up with the lineup card. He’s been trying out different solutions, with Marwin Gonzalez and Michael Chavis the latest to get a crack at it, but nothing has fixed the issue. It’s a minor issue admittedly, but could become a detriment down the line if this team ends up going through a cold stretch.
So this is really one of the first opportunities we will have to see what the Sox are really made of. We know they can beat up on lesser competition, but how will they fare against the better teams in the league? So far, the sample size shows that they have done pretty good against these competitive squads, which should leave Red Sox fans feeling good about their chances to pull out a series win. But if they slip up against Toronto here, they could find themselves losing grip on their lead of the AL East early on in the season.