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The hard part starts now.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox
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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what happens from here on out, the good part is we’ll always have April. After the pandemic and the Mookie Betts trade and the sorry 2020 Red Sox product, April 2021 showed, blissfully, that not all hope was lost.

Unfortunately for us, they don’t make the whole schedule out of April. As of this morning, the Sox are 1.5 games ahead of the Yankees and Rays and two games ahead of the Blue Jays. The Orioles are only 3 back besides, and just got a no-hitter. The division race is only now getting started, and it could be the toughest one for any team in years.

There are reasons to think that the Sox might have tougher sledding going forward than they heretofore have had. Baseball Prospectus still has Boston finishing fourth in the division, with a record of 82-80, basically right where they were to start, with about a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs. FanGraphs is more optimistic, putting Boston at 50 percent for the postseason with an 87-win projection. In both cases, the Yankees are still the runaway favorites.

And, it must be said, with good reason. The Yankees started off horribly and find themselves a scant 1.5 back before they’ve played the Sox a single time. Given the rash of injuries that have plagued the Yanks so far, and the relatively good health that has blessed the Sox, what once looked like a potential Boston runaway to the division title looks considerably more muddled now. The 1.5 game lead aside, it seems more likely than not the Sox find themselves looking up at the division leader by the time the season—or May—is over.

And honestly... all of this is okay. This isn’t doom and gloom for doom and gloom’s sake. It’s not doom and gloom at all. It’s acknowledging that the work left to be done is still a majority of the work and that, for their considerably early success, there are reasons to think things are about to get much tougher.

If nothing else, the injury bug seems destined to bite the team at some point soon, particularly in the rotation, where you’d never really presume six weeks of across-the-board good health for any set of starters on any team at any time... and the Sox are approaching six weeks right now. Also there are some starters (named Nick Pivetta) who are pitching probably way over their heads right now, whereas none of them, now that Garrett Richards has righted the ship, are pitching poorly, per se. It is a certainty that there will be rotation issues, and for those, we can only wait.

There are reasons to worry on offense, too. The core 2-5 hitters are so good as to be almost unimpeachable, though Alex Verdugo’s sore back does scare me a little bit. The good part on that note is that Jarren Duran is a fine 1:1 replacement for Verdugo, if it comes to that, and the better note is that if Verdugo is healthy Duran should bat and play next to him, rather than in his place.

Outside of Duran, there isn’t a reason to think the offense will necessarily improve. Not that they need to; J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Xander Boagerts, and Verdugo have been as good as you could hope for, but that usually means there’s only one way left to go, and that’s down. In fairness, the supporting cast should show some positive regression fairly soon, as Hunter Renfroe has demonstrated. It might not be enough to win the division, but it should be enough to compete.

And that’s the point. The season is in full swing, but the competition has yet to kick into high gear. If the Sox have won anything so far, it’s a ticket to ride, so to speak. It should be a wild one.