It’s been no secret the 2021 season for the Boston Red Sox has been filled with ups and downs. After their unpromising start to the season against the Baltimore Orioles, things were not looking up for the team. After finishing the 2020 season with a very underwhelming record of 24-36, the return of manager Alex Cora after his 2020 suspension was supposed to be a huge boost for Boston. The Sox were looking to make some changes to avoid a repeat of their previous season – and it’s safe to say they’ve done that. They went from finishing 26th out of 30 Major League ball clubs in 2020 to having a pretty strong hold on the AL East for a good part of the season. The Red Sox have exceeded most fans expectations for the 2021 season. Despite the much more productive year, one thing has put all their hard work in jeopardy: COVID-19.
The Sox had lasted most of the 2021 season with COVID issues being few and far between. They are, however, one of the few teams in the MLB to not reach an 85% vaccination threshold. Reaching the threshold set by the majors allows for a pull-back on safety precautions. On August 27, that all changed. Leadoff hitter Kiké Hernandez, who the Red Sox signed from the LA Dodgers in February 2021, tested positive for the virus. While Hernandez had been vaccinated prior to his positive test, that did not stop a full-on outbreak from hitting the ball club. Since Hernandez’s positive test, at least a dozen players, coaches and staff in Boston have tested positive. Even more have been activated onto the COVID-19 Related Injured List as close contacts.
It truly seems no one in the Red Sox organization is safe from this outbreak. While it started with position players and coaches, it has been rampant especially with pitching. It decimated the bullpen first and has quickly begun its run through Boston’s starting rotation. It’s almost no argument the most upsetting of players to fall victim during this disaster is seven-time All-Star and lefty ace, Chris Sale. Sale returned to the diamond on August 14 after his Tommy John surgery in March 2020 that had him out of the majors for two years. This return completed the puzzle of the Red Sox’s 2021 season. An incredible energy on and off the field, Sale’s effect on the clubhouse cannot be understated. Unfortunately, on September 10, that came to a halt when the starter tested positive. He would not accompany the team on their road trip to start against the Chicago White Sox before heading to Seattle to face the Mariners.
It is without question that this outbreak has cost the Sox a number of games over the past two weeks, tightening the Wild Card race for the final spots for entry into the postseason. One of the other damaging hits to the team was when All-Star Xander Bogaerts was called off the field mid-game on August 31 after Red Sox coaches and staff received news that the shortstop had tested positive for COVID-19. As an integral part of the organization for years, his departure was an incredible blow to morale and his absence was felt heavily. His reinstatement from the COVID IL came on September 10.
Other players to be placed on the COVID IL due to positive tests or close contacts: Christian Arroyo, Martín Pérez, Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Yairo Muñoz, Jarren Duran, Nick Pivetta, Danny Santana, Jonathan Araùz, Phillips Valdez. While some have been reinstated from the COVID IL, the Red Sox roster is still missing some key assets it needs to be successful through this last stretch of the regular season. To have a real shot at a Wild Card spot, Red Sox coaching and management need to find a way to get this intense setback under control.
Players being called up from Boston’s Triple-A Affiliate, the Worcester Red Sox, coaches, and All-Stars have all been targets during this outbreak that continues to endure. More and more players are added to the IL on an almost daily basis, and it currently feels like the bleeding will never end. While the Red Sox have not reached that 85% vaccination threshold, many of the starters being put in the IL have been open about their vaccination status and Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom claims that many of the positive cases of the virus are breakthrough cases.