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Sox finally have hit on the right formula

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 27, 2011

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DETROIT — It is May 27, a few days before Memorial Day, and your Red Sox have been found.

They’ve been tattered, embarrassed, and beaten up along the way. They have been called every name in the book as they took a circuitous route, but they are in a virtual tie for first place in the American League East.

The Red Sox have arrived.

They are the team many prognosticators chose to win the division, the pennant, and the World Series. Did we feel good about that pick in mid-April or even early May? No way!

Did we think this might be the most overrated team money can buy? It crossed our minds.

Did we think there was a lot of wasted money? Guilty again. And in some cases we still believe that.

But you know what? This is the team that was supposed to emerge — a run-scoring machine that pitches and fields well enough to be a factor in October.

After yesterday’s 14-1 beating of Detroit, they have scored 57 runs in their last seven games while allowing only 23. They have scored 14 or more runs three times in that span. They are leading the majors in virtually every offensive category in May.

They lost two starting pitchers, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but the replacements, Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves, have been better. Aceves pitched six innings in yesterday’s victory, allowing one run, to improve his career record to 16-1.

“We’re not going to score 14 or 15 runs every game,’’ said captain Jason Varitek, “but we can score enough runs to win games if we go out and our pitchers give us quality starts. And that’s what our team is doing right now.’’

General manager Theo Epstein predicted the moment he signed Aceves that the former Yankee would help the team. He has given the Sox two excellent starts and made 13 appearances.

“There’s a good feeling here, man,’’ said David Ortiz. “We can hit the baseball. We can’t do this all the time, but we’re going to do it again, I guarantee that.’’

Here are 15 reasons the Red Sox are the Red Sox again:

■Carl Crawford — He used to look really out of place in the batting order. But since getting his average above .200 May 7, he has taken off. He is up to .244, with eight hits in his last two games, including two triples yesterday out of the No. 6 spot.

■Jacoby Ellsbury — The leadoff man has been one of the most consistent players in baseball this season after playing in only 18 games last year. It seems he’s trying to prove his durability and toughness.

■Dustin Pedroia — The intangibles are off the charts. The little things he does in the field, his leadership, how he inspires teammates on a daily basis. The big hits, the big plays. There aren’t enough superlatives, really.

■David Ortiz — The biggest changes are how he hits the ball to the opposite field (.320 on balls to left) and hangs in against lefthanded pitchers (.288 against them, 15 for 52). Ortiz is earning another contract, perhaps even a two-year deal.

■Adrian Gonzalez — He’s the perfect No. 3 hitter. Before he got here, we hyped him as a perfect Fenway hitter, but he’s really a perfect hitter everywhere.

■Josh Beckett — The Sox needed Beckett to be Beckett, and he has been, with a 1.69 ERA. Beckett doesn’t throw 96-97 anymore, but a fastball at 93-94 with a great breaking pitch is more than enough.

■Jed Lowrie — He has added offense to the shortstop position, hitting .300 overall and .442 against lefthanders. His defense has been shaky, but the Sox will put up with that to have his bat.

■Kevin Youkilis — With so few righthanded hitters in your lineup, he is very important. After a slow start, he is grinding out at-bats and hitting for power.

■Jarrod Saltalamacchia — “He finally relaxed,’’ said a front office member. “He was really nervous at first because he knew the job was his and he had to hold it down. When he finally slowed things down and just let his talents come out, he’s been fine. He’s a big, powerful kid. We’re going to see some production out of him. He’s just so much more confident now.’’

■Terry Francona — You may disagree with him on individual moves night to night, but there is a method to his madness and it works. Francona is pretty even-keeled, and his players never feel as if the world is coming to an end following a poor performance. That confidence goes a long way.

■Jon Lester — We predicted a Cy Young Award for Lester, and with a major league-best seven wins, he may be on his way. We still haven’t seen the dominant Lester we usually see in the summer and beyond.

■Clay Buchholz — After a slow start, he’s every bit the young, emerging star we envisioned. The Sox took the training wheels off by allowing him to throw 127 pitches two starts ago, and he hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a start since April 26.

■Jonathan Papelbon — He has answered his critics in his walk year. The Sox have to seriously consider whether they want Papelbon to test free agency, particularly because Daniel Bard has been shaky this season.

■Rich Hill — Lefty specialists come and go, as we’ve seen with Hideki Okajima, but Hill has succeeded beyond expectations. Lefties are 1 for 12 against him, and overall he has held batters to a .130 average (3 for 23).

■Tim Wakefield — Is the old man saving the day again? He can still shut a team down. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what he does at 44.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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