The red-hot Red Sox are about to face their toughest test yet

The red-hot Red Sox are about to face their toughest test yet

Talking about the hottest team in baseball

Alex Cora knows what’s coming.

“Toronto’s one of the big boys in the division,” Cora said after his team completed its sweep of Cleveland for a seventh straight win. “They’ve been playing well. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re ready for it.”

The Red Sox manager also has to realize that his team’s task for the next three games isn’t just your run-of-the-mill meeting with a good American League East team.

After passing a 1 1/2 months worth of tests, this is Cora’s club biggest one to date.

Start with the fact that the Blue Jays are considered by many one of the most talented teams in all of baseball. Sure, the Red Sox have put Toronto in their rearview mirror for the time being thanks to a 19-4 month of June, while the Jays have lost their last four series. But the Sox have learned first-hand how difficult it is to function at Rogers Centre.

The Blue Jays have beaten the Red Sox in six of the teams’ last eight meetings in Toronto, taking three of four against Boston back in April.

The positive for the Red Sox, obviously, is that they are a dramatically different team than the last time the two clubs faced off … in so many ways. Since early May, the Sox have become one of the best offensive teams after previously living life as one of the worst.

And while the likes of Kiké Hernandez, Garrett Whitlock and Nathan Eovaldi have been sidelined, the Red Sox’ depth has emerged as the kind of strength that is usually the lifeblood of any contender.

But what the Sox now face is next-level.

It starts with rookie Connor Seabold needing to jump into the Red Sox’ rotation due to Whitlock’s slower-than-expected return from a hip ailment, having to go up against a pitcher in Kevin Gausman who absolutely dominated the Sox in his first two starts against them. In two April starts against Boston, the righty allowed two runs over 14 innings.

The next two starters the Red Sox will have to face are no bargains, either. Tuesday they take on Ross Stripling, who hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of his appearances since May 7. Then comes one of the American League’s best pitchers this season, Alex Manoah, owner of the third-best ERA (2.05) in the A.L.

And then, of course, there is the matter of playing without two more key participants – Jarren Duran and Tanner Houck – due to their vaccination status.

As was put on display in Cleveland, Duran has been a revelation at the top of the Red Sox’ batting order, going 5-for-11 with two walks in his first inning at-bats. In his most recent two games, the outfielder is a combined 6-for-10.

Taking Duran’s place on the Red Sox’ roster will be veteran infielder Yolmer Sanchez, who served a starter for the White Sox from 2017-19 and was hitting .253 with an .805 OPS for Triple-A Worcester.

The absence of Houck means Cora will need to find another ninth-inning option. While logic would suggest that the Red Sox’ best lock-down reliever of late, John Schreiber, would get the nod, “8 Mile” might still be called on to get the biggest outs earlier in the ninth, leaving the close outs to someone like Matt Strahm.

(Such subtle items as Vlad Guerrero going hitless in four at-bats against Hansel Robles, or Teoscar Hernandez having gone 0-for-5 vs. Ryan Brasier might be factored in.)

The Red Sox are riding the kind of wave not experienced in these parts for some time. And if they are able to leave Canada with yet another series win, this would undeniably be the biggest feather in this team’s cap so far.

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