With three weeks to go in the major league baseball season, the Red Sox have to feel pretty good about their playoff hopes.

Though they have lost five of their last seven games, they built a big enough playoff cushion in July to stay in the driver’s seat.

So what will they – and we – be looking at in these final weeks of the season?

Here are three important questions the Sox must answer by the end of September if they want to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to Boston in October:

 

1. Who is the third starter?

This is by far the most important question facing the Sox. We know it will be Jon Lester and Josh Beckett (in some order) starting the first two games of the postseason. From there, it’s anyone’s guess.

After a woeful start, John Lackey seemed to be pitching better as the season rolled on. After giving up six earned runs in five innings Sunday, he is 3-3, 5.93 in his last seven starts.

His career ERA against Texas is over six – and he may well be facing the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.

Lackey has been surpassed in the rotation by Erik Bedard, who picked up his first win with the Sox on Saturday. Then came word that Bedard was going to miss his next start, as the team gives him more time for his balky right knee to feel better.

The fact that Bedard isn’t feeling well is troublesome. Especially with the playoffs looming.

The American League Division Series begins Sept. 30. There will be four games in the first five days of the postseason, meaning it is highly unlikely the Sox could go with a three-man rotation.

So the Sox will almost certainly need to go with four starters in the first round.

And, if Bedard can’t go for some reason, you’re looking at the likes of Tim Wakefield or Andrew Miller. Miller, you may remember, is the guy who faced 13 batters and recorded four outs Friday night.

2. Who will pitch the seventh inning?

It was supposed to be Bobby Jenks, but he’s apparently done for the season.

Then, it was Matt Albers, but Albers has given up at least a run in eight of his last 13 appearances with an ERA of 11.93. Dan Wheeler seemed to be moving towards that spot, but gave up three runs in 12/3 innings on Saturday and a walk-off home run Monday.

At this point, you’d probably have to go with Alfredo Aceves, but he has traditionally been a long-inning guy and there are no guarantees that he will make a smooth transition to that role.

 

3. Who will play right field?

Before his latest setback, I expected J.D. Drew to return for the playoffs.

Now, it could be Josh Reddick, Darnell McDonald or Connor Jackson. It is Reddick’s job to lose, but you could see some combination of McDonald or Jackson against left-handed pitching.

There are plenty of other questions that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona have to answer when putting together the roster for October, but none more important than these.

We’ll all learn the answers to them over the next three weeks.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.