Red Sox show signs of life as All-Star break nears

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BOSTON -- With fireworks going off all over the country to celebrate Independence Day, the Red Sox had a little pop of their own this weekend at Fenway Park.

The result? A series win over the A.L. West-leading Houston Astros.

It's the team's third straight series win. The first two were over division rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto.

And more than that, the Sox are showing something they seemed to lack for the better part of three months: Fight. Although they didn't come out with a win on Friday night, the Sox rallied back to tie the game three times before a 10th-inning loss. On Sunday, they rebounded from a three-run Houston seventh, which had put the Astros ahead 4-3, and pulled out the victory.

The Sox have scored 31 runs over their last four games, an average of 7.75 a game. That's roughly three-and-a-half runs more than they've averaged this season. And while the number is clearly unsustainable going forward, it's more in line with what everybody thought this offense was capable of when it was assembled over the offseason.

Boston has now won six of its last eight games, 7 of its last 10, and 12 of its last 19. The team is only six games behind the division-leading Yankees, who lost on Sunday.

If you think the Red Sox are dead, you haven't been paying attention lately.

The team's improved play at the end of June has "carried into the early days of July here," John Farrell said after Sunday's win. "More than anything, we're putting up very good at-bats. [Sunday] was just an outstanding offensive approach from the first pitch right through the last pitch . . . Like I said, our lineup is starting to deepen even with [Dustin Pedroia] being absent. The top of the order is doing a very good job, and now that we have [Ryan Hanigan] back in that {No. 9] spot, just quality at-bats up and down that lineup."

Mookie Betts, Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts have been strong at the top of the Sox order, with Betts extending his hitting streak to seven games on Sunday. Holt's hitting streak now stands at six games, and Bogaerts is at five games. Betts is hitting .419 (13-for-31) during his streak, while Bogaerts is hitting .500 (9-for-18).

Hanley Ramirez's go-ahead home run was his 18th of the season, and sixth go-ahead home run of the season. He hit a go-ahead homer on Friday night, too.

Shane Victorino and Alejandro De Aza suddenly make a formidable pair in right field, a position that saw little to no offensive production for the first couple months of the season. And though it's unlikely to last, the Sox have even gotten production out of the catcher's position, as both Hanigan and Sandy Leon had three hits in the Sox last two wins.

The pitching? It's hit or miss in every sense of the word. But Clay Buchholz has emerged as the leader of the staff, and you can put his numbers up against just about any pitcher in the American League lately.

The recent stretch of success isn't the biggest sample size -- but it's a sample size nonetheless, and that's more than these guys had in the dog days of May and early June.

Now, the team thinks it can get on a bit of a roll and build some momentum heading into the All-Star break.

"Like to think so. I think we all like to think so," Hanigan said. "We're winning some games, but we've got to push and we know it. Even that game we lost [Friday] we were coming back, battling back. It just didn't work out . . .  

"It's good to see the fight. Guys are hitting. Taking the extra base . . .  Guys are feeling good, I think, and it's hopefully going to be a fun second half."

And suddenly, next weekend's three-game series against the Yankees to close out the first half looks a lot more interesting.

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