It's one thing to beat good teams. It's another to beat their best pitchers, which brings us to the 2021 Red Sox.
They're scything a path through the iron.
Only 18 games into the season, and the Red Sox have already faced five of the top eight contenders for the American League Cy Young Award, according to various Vegas oddsmakers. Their record in those games: 5-0.
It started with Tampa's Tyler Glasnow, who is absolutely dominating the American League. Glasnow has allowed only two runs all season while posting a 0.73 ERA. One of them came in his no-decision vs. the Red Sox, a game they eventually won 6-5 in 12 innings.
In short order, the Red Sox also defeated Minnesota's vaunted twosome of Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios before laying the wood to Chicago's Lucas Giolito, who saw his ERA more than double after the Red Sox torched him for eight runs in one-plus innings on Monday.
That just set the stage for Tuesday night, when the Red Sox rode one big inning to a 4-2 victory over the Jays and pinpoint left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu, who owns two straight top-three Cy Young finishes.
Boston Red Sox
"We've been facing good pitching since the first day of spring training," manager Alex Cora said. "We're talking about the Twins, the Braves, the Rays, we played them a lot and they're great. I do believe it's good. This is what it's all about. You're going to run into stretches like this, that you're going to face the best of the best, and you have to grind it out."
The Red Sox are completely flouting the adage about splitting with good teams and beating up on bad ones. The schedule makers gave them a tough early slate, with four of their first five opponents coming off postseason appearances. The Red Sox have either won or split every series, and they've done so largely against the top of each rotation, their lone break missing Cy Young candidate Lance Lynn and no-hit specialist Carlos Rodon during a four-game set with the White Sox.
The Red Sox are 9-3 vs. the Rays, Twins, White Sox, and Blue Jays. They've done so with opportunistic offense, but also by pitching well enough to stay in each game. Glasnow limited them to one run over six innings, but left-hander Martin Perez kept it close and the Red Sox rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie it in the ninth on Christian Vazquez's home run.
They nearly batted around against Maeda in the second inning of a 3-2 victory, stringing together four hits to score all three of their runs. A day later, Berrios cruised into the fifth with a shutout before the Red Sox erupted for six runs in a 7-1 victory.
They greeted Giolito with six straight hits to open Monday's 11-4 victory, scoring six runs in the first and never looking back. The going was much tougher against Ryu, who lives on the corners, but the Red Sox turned singles from Christian Arroyo and J.D. Martinez and a three-run homer from Xander Bogaerts into all the runs they would need in the fourth.
In four of the five cases, the Red Sox managed to string together rallies vs. some of the best pitchers in the American League, which is no easy task. But it's a credit to their approach at the plate, which relies less on trying to run into homers and more on taking what's there for singles and doubles to keep the line moving.
"Sometimes it's actually easier to buy into the game-planning," Cora said. "Don't try to do too much, go the other way. When it's the ace of the other staff, it seems like guys buy into it constantly. It's a lot easier to get off your plan when it's a No. 5 or a guy that doesn't have plus-plus stuff or plus command."
The sledding doesn't get any easier. The Red Sox begin a four-game set with the AL West-leading Mariners on Thursday, and then a matchup looms with two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets, whom Cora calls, "the best pitcher on the planet."
It might not matter, because the Red Sox keep finding a way.
"I think we've done a good job against everybody offensively," Cora said. "We feel like we can score runs against anybody."