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The Red Sox, Remember Them?

Boston Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre hits a solo home run against Tampa Bay on May 26 in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP)
Boston Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre hits a solo home run against Tampa Bay on May 26 in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP)

Once the only game in town, the Red Sox have recently had to (gasp!) share the spotlight.

You've turned your attention first to the feisty Bruins and their epic collapse and then to the surprising run by the Celtics, whose old-school below-the-rim game defied age more than gravity and extended their season to the final date on the NBA calendar.

When you turn on the game this weekend, you may recognize fewer names on the Fenway field than you do on the pitch in Johannesburg. Fear not, sports philanderers!  While you've focused on soccer heartbreak (how French) and three-day wars of attrition (how British), we've still kept a local eye.

So now, as the temperature climbs higher, we help you turn your wandering eyes back to the Olde Town Team. After starting the season poorly (3-9 in their first 12 games) the Sox have quietly crept up on the division-leading New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. With over half the season remaining, the Sox must be considered one of the favorites if any team will dethrone the defending champs this year. And they've remade their roster.

So who are these guys? A primer in some of the Sox players whose debuts you may have missed:

Adrian Beltre: Much was made of General Manager Theo Epstein's effort to upgrade the roster's defensive capabilities during the off-season, and third-baseman Beltre was to be the new philosophy's keystone at the hot corner. Operating under the law that "a run saved is a run earned," Beltre's defense was supposed to be worth wins for the Red Sox.

But while Beltre has actually played below-average defense, his big bat has been a revelation for the Sox.  He's batting .342 and has driven in a team-high 51 RBI.  Perhaps now a run a scored is as good as a run saved.

Marco Scutaro: Before the season, Epstein seemed about ready to trot out a mystical soothsayer to perform an animal sacrifice while playing shortstop in an effort to break The Curse of Nomar.  Since Epstein traded away the face of the franchise in 2004, the Sox have brought home two World Series trophies but haven't been able to hold on to a credible shortstop.

Scutaro was brought in this off-season — the latest in a line of players hoping to catch on and cure Epstein's headaches.  Scutaro hasn't been spectacular, but he's been an adequate lead-off presence after center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury headed to the disabled list, and has largely played great defense. More importantly to Epstein, however, as we approach the All-Star break Scutaro is still standing between second base and third.

John Lackey: Often known as a "bulldog" or a fighter, the feisty pitcher has mostly been in the doghouse with Sox fans this year.  Lackey has failed to show the form that led him, as an LA Angel, to become one of the Sox' greatest nemeses in recent years, and he has been maddeningly inconsistent. He's managed to post an 8-3 mark over his first 15 starts with Boston, but sports an ERA of almost 5.00.

Lackey's lack of control is evident as he's posted both the lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate per nine innings of his career. Lackey is reminding fans of fellow over-hyped Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka: he's more-than-competent but certainly less-than-dazzling.

Daniel Bard: On the other end of the spectrum from Lackey sits Sox setup man Bard. This guy seems impossible to over-hype. Drafted in the first-round by Boston in 2006, Bard debuted for the Sox last season but found a comfortable spot with the club this year and is already making his mark in the big leagues. The hard-throwing righty has struck out 40 batters in just over 38 innings of work and owns a sterling 2.11 ERA. Sox manager Terry Francona clearly trusts the young Bard (he turned 25 on Friday) as much as he would a veteran — Bard's 37 appearances top the American League.

This program aired on June 25, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Jeremy Bernfeld Producer
Jeremy Bernfeld was formerly a producer for WBUR.

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