John Tomase

Now is the perfect time to starting paying attention to Red Sox

Don't look now, but the run-happy Red Sox are knocking on the door of AL contention.

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We're now well into the stretch that was supposed to put the Red Sox in their place and send their flirtations with .500 permanently south.

Here's their record so far: 7-2.

If you're looking for a reason to hope that the time between the Celtics' championship parade and Patriots training camp won't be a total sporting wasteland, the Red Sox have very quietly demonstrated they're worthy of our attention.

After a slow start while recalibrating following a season-ending shoulder injury for shortstop and team leader Trevor Story, the Red Sox have caught fire with a formula that feels, dare I say, sustainable?

In the last week alone, they've won series against the two best teams in baseball (Phillies, Yankees), and boosted their playoff odds by nearly 25 percent, second only to the rampaging Mets. That's the kind of thing that should catch the attention of analytically minded chief baseball officer Craig Breslow, who is still determining whether to buy, sell, or thread the needle at next month's trade deadline.

The Red Sox still may only have about a 30 percent chance of reaching October, but check back in another week. Or better yet, a month. They've become one of the toughest outs in baseball, a throwback squad built around speed that stole five more bases in Wednesday's 7-3 win in Toronto to complete a sweep of the fading Blue Jays.

Every Red Sox manager since Ralph Houk has claimed his team would put pressure on opposing defenses, but Alex Cora's crew is the first to actually step up and do it across the roster. The Red Sox lead the American League in steals with 76, and that number is only going to climb as they embrace their go-go identity. In the last week alone, they've set a franchise record with nine steals vs. the Yankees before following it up with Wednesday's five-steal outburst.

Rookie shortstop David Hamilton, maligned as not ready for prime time when he was forced into action following Story's injury, has found new life in his second go-round. He ranks second in the American League with 20 steals and is now third on the team in batting at .288. He may not possess the strongest arm, but he's making the routine plays at short, which has allowed another speedster, rookie Ceddanne Rafaela, to return to center field.

Meanwhile, the team's best all-around player might be outfielder Jarren Duran, who has caught fire. He stole two more bases on Wednesday, giving him 19 overall. He leads the team in WAR (3.7) and is the only player on the roster who hasn't missed a game. Duran's energy out of the leadoff spot makes the Red Sox go, with his league-leading 10 triples highlighting how exciting he can be on the bases.

Add stabilized defense and just enough power (81 homers, 7th in AL) to change games with one swing, and the Red Sox are finally delivering an all-around product worthy of their surprisingly excellent rotation.

Even as starters like Kutter Crawford and Cooper Criswell return to earth, the Red Sox still rank fourth in the American League in ERA at 3.45. There are questions about how ace Tanner Houck and other young arms will hold up in the second half – Houck should top last year's career high in innings sometime in the next two weeks – but that's a problem that can be addressed at the deadline, if ownership finally decides to divert its attention from future seasons.

For now, the Red Sox are giving us a reason to watch, and they're heating up at just the right time. The Duck Boats make their tour of the city on Friday, and then the baseball team will have the stage to itself.

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