Now comes the real test.
The Red Sox blitzed through the easiest portion of their schedule to overcome a 10-19 start, reach .500, and then zoom into wild card position. After sweeping the Guardians over the weekend, they find themselves atop the wild card race and alone in second place in the American League East.
By any measure, their turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable, with a 19-4 record in June and a 32-12 mark since May 10. Their starting rotation continues to deliver despite injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock, their offense is now unofficially the best in baseball, and the bullpen finally has some order with Tanner Houck at closer.
Starting Monday in Toronto, none of it matters. A new season begins and it's the one that will reveal the most about their readiness to contend.
The Red Sox open a three-game series against the Blue Jays and then run a gauntlet through the American League East. Twenty of their next 23 games will be against the Yankees, Rays, and Jays. If the season ended today, all four clubs would be in the playoffs, with New York the No. 1 seed and Boston the No. 1 wild card.
Everything the Red Sox have accomplished over the last six weeks has merely served as positioning. Now the real season starts.
"We know we're good and we've got to keep working," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Cleveland on Sunday after completing the sweep with an 8-3 victory. "We've got to keep working hard for what we are trying to accomplish, but we feel good. Now, we get ready for Toronto. Obviously, they're one of the big boys in the division, but we'll be ready for it."
The days of asking whether the Red Sox are actually good or merely feasting on inferior competition should've been answered this month. Going 19-4 is never simply a function of the opposition, besides which, the Red Sox have won series against the Astros, Cardinals, and Guardians, too.
The East represents a different beast, however. Because of Canada's vaccine mandates, the Red Sox will be without Houck, dynamic leadoff man Jarren Duran, and spot starter Kutter Crawford this week. The last time they journeyed north of the border without Houck, they lost three of four, sending their season into a tailspin.
They'll attempt to win the opener behind rookie Connor Seabold, who's being called up to face one of the best lineups in baseball. If the recent past is any indicator, perhaps he'll join Crawford and right-hander Josh Winckowski as spot starters who deliver.
Navigating the ninth inning without Houck could be problematic, though Cora might be tempted to lean on sidewinding right-hander John Schreiber, who bailed out Matt Strahm to contribute to a sweep of the Tigers with a save last week. Schreiber's 0.79 ERA ranks seventh among pitchers with at least 20 innings.
Of course, who pitches where might not matter if the offense keeps mashing. Cora's group has settled into a nice little pattern of consistent production from at least two of the big boys -- Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez -- augmented on any given night by members of the supporting cast. Over the weekend, that was Alex Verdugo, who launched a mammoth go-ahead homer off All-Star Shane Bieber, and Duran, who recorded six hits and two steals. At other points, it has been RBI machine Trevor Story or catcher Christian Vazquez. Franchy Cordero and Bobby Dalbec have made their presences felt. Infielder Christian Arroyo returned from the COVID list to launch a go-ahead two-run homer on Friday.
The individual parts might not always amaze, but they've added up to an impressive whole. The Red Sox are now second in the American League in runs, and at their current pace could overtake the Yankees by the end of the month.
"It's night and day to the group early in the season," Cora told reporters. "Early in the season, we were swinging at a lot of bad pitches, not walking, striking out a lot, not hitting the ball hard, and now it's the total opposite."
And now comes the test. The Jays aren't the juggernaut many expected, partly because of injuries to their rotation, where left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu is out for the season following Tommy John surgery and presumed ace Jose Berrios has posted a 5.86 ERA.
They're also not nearly as destructive offensively as predicted, with MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. enduring one of the worst months of his career in May before rebounding to his expected levels in June. Guerrero is chasing more pitches off the plate than ever and for a while he hit almost all of them on the ground, where he can't do any damage. His OPS of 1.001 this month suggests he has made the necessary adjustments.
The Jays have gotten massive production from second-year catcher Alejandro Kirk and a solid if unspectacular season from George Springer, but they're basically looking at league average production out of All-Stars Matt Chapman, Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez.
The Red Sox are perfectly positioned to exploit Toronto's struggles and send the message that the Yankees might be the class of the American League, but Boston is the team no one should want any part of in the postseason.