Mason: Five Sox keys in the throes of August

AP Photo/Michael DwyerAndrew Benintendi, right, celebrates his two-run home run that also drove in Xander Bogaerts against the Yankees Sunday.

August is here on Thursday.

Guess what that means? More Tampa Bay Rays. More Yankees. And the need for Red Sox starters to pull their weight.

Here are my five keys to the coming month:

1. Battle in the Bronx

The Red Sox open the first weekend of the month with four games in three days at Yankee Stadium.

It’s been a wild season series thus far, and whether Boston, London, or New York, there’s no denying this rivalry is intensifying once again.

Thanks to a double-header on Saturday Aug. 3, Alex Cora’s club with have a chance to gain more ground in the divisional race rather quickly. It’s only early August, but these four games could have major playoff implications.

2. MVP race is on

It’s going to be an uphill battle to knock off Mike Trout, the Babe Ruth of this generation, but as the calendar hits August the Red Sox have two MVP candidates on their own roster.

Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have been a terrifying two-three combination on Cora’s lineup card, and if they keep hitting the way they have, at least one could be a finalist for the American League’s most prestigious award.

It’s crazy to think that with Mookie Betts winning in 2018 and J.D. Martinez finishing fourth, there are four different players the Sox have had in the MVP conversation over the past two seasons.

3. Old friends, new foes

The Red Sox will see two alumni on the opposing manager’s bench this month, as they’ll hit Cleveland for a four-game set with Terry Francona’s Indians and later host Gabe Kapler and the Phillies.

All three teams are in their respective Wild Card hunts, so there should be some contentious baseball played. Francona should have the Cleveland job until he retires, but with lofty expectations and a potential playoff miss on the radar, is Kapler’s seat beginning to warm?

4. Can the starters carry their weight?

Boston was built on the strength of their starting pitching, and for most of the season, the rotation hasn’t delivered to their $90 million pedigree. They, more than the bullpen, are the reason the Red Sox are looking up at the Yankees.

However, in their last full turn of July, the starters started to look better. Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Andrew Cashner threw five consecutive quality starts in that span. Can they carry some of that momentum into August, or was it just a flash in the pan?

5. Don’t doze off at work!

The Sox end the month on a long West Coast trip that sees stops in San Diego, Colorado, and Anaheim.

With most of the games starting after 8:30 Eastern Time, there are sure to be some weary eyes at work for those brave enough to stay up for all nine innings.