The Boston Red Sox traveled to Toronto on Sunday night posting seven straight wins, the longest active streak in baseball. They went 32-12 since manager Alex Cora shaved off his beard in hopes of breathing life into his team and took the lead in the American League wild card race.
Now they have to find a way to beat the teams in their division.
Going into Monday night’s game against the Blue Jays, the Red Sox were 7-14 against the AL East this season. They’re 35-17 against everyone else, and 20 of their next 23 games will be against Toronto, Tampa Bay and the No. 1 Yankees.
They will play the first three games of this streak without two players. Pitcher Tanner Houck and outfielder Jarren Duran returned to Boston after Sunday’s win at Cleveland because they are unvaccinated and not allowed to play north of the border under Canadian regulations.
The timing couldn’t be much worse. Houck is perfect in six save situations this year and has solidified Boston’s bullpen since becoming the team’s closest. Now Cora will have to turn to other relievers while Houck waits to join the team Friday in Chicago.
John Schreiber is an obvious choice to wrap up a close game at Rogers Center in Toronto. He’s been the most important reliever in Cora’s arsenal this year, posting a 0.79 ERA and keeping opponents scoreless in all but one of his 24 appearances.
Not bad for a 28-year-old who was let go by the Detroit Tigers before last season. Now he’s pitching late innings for baseball’s hottest team and throwing harder than ever.
It was clocked at 97 mph in a game against those same Tigers last week. This caught everyone’s attention and people wondered where the speed increase came from.
“I went to my first spring training here with the Red Sox and I remember looking at the board and seeing 88 up there on the gun,” Schreiber told me on my “TC” podcast. & Company” this week. “I was, you know, quite disappointed. … In the back of my head, I was like, ‘OK, I have to do a little something different here just to be ready for next year.’ I think I did pretty well. I was ready to go.”
Schreiber has worked harder than ever this winter, and the results are showing this summer.
The results of Chaim Bloom’s reconstruction of the Red Sox’s pitching staff are also visible. He claimed Schreiber on waivers before last season. He signed Jake Diekman and Matt Strahm, two key late-inning arms, this offseason. He traded for Austin Davis last year.
He also rebuilt the depth of the team’s starting rotation. Josh Winckowski, one of five players acquired under the Andrew Benintendi deal, is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his last three starts. Nick Pivetta, one of two pitchers acquired for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in 2020, became the Red Sox coaching ace while Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi are on the injured list.
And now Connor Seabold, the other pitcher acquired in that trade, has taken Houck’s place for Game 1 in Toronto. Seabold has been one of the best Triple-A pitchers this season, going 5-1 and 2.26 ERA with Worcester.
One of the things that Bloom was asked to do is create a model of sustainability for the franchise, to be able to struggle year after year. They came within two wins of a World Series last year, and after a rough 10-19 start, the Sox rose to the top of the wildcard standings.
You can’t do that without depth. The Red Sox have relied on many different players this season. Christian Arroyo and Rob Refsnyder, two players nabbed by the Sox after being released by other teams, impacted Cleveland’s weekend sweep with big sticks.
Now that depth will be tested again as two players opted out of being vaccinated. According to MLB and the MLB Players Association, it’s their choice. But that pick puts undue pressure on a team trying to make another deep playoff run.
It could be even more important later this season. The Red Sox play their last road series of the year in Toronto from September 30 to October 2. Imagine if this series dictates their playoff hopes? And they have to play without key players? What if they have to go to Toronto in the playoffs? Red Sox fans will no doubt let unvaccinated players know how they feel about their decision.
These are questions we will answer by the end of the season. For now, the Red Sox are hoping the depth of their current roster will allow them to wrap up their best month in years with their first series win against an AL East opponent this season.
Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox show on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.
Red Sox complete another sweep, extend streak to seven