BOSTON – The Red Sox are in first place in the American League East at the All-Star break. That fact would’ve been nearly unthinkable a couple of months ago. But here they are, enjoying a brief respite with the best record in the American League. Fans have finally started to notice the Sox, and why not?

They are fun, they are resilient and they have more remarkable wins this season than the last two years combined. And they’re about to face one of their toughest stretches of the season.

On Friday night, the New York Yankees come to Fenway Park for the first time this season. Yes, the Yanks are offensively challenged, with Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list — and Derek Jeter possibly headed back there after playing only one game. And they are on the brink of falling back in the AL East pack — but that makes them a wounded animal.

They know a big series in Boston could jump-start a second-half run to the playoffs.

Incredibly, there are still 12 games remaining between the historic rivals. You’d better believe the New Yorkers have circled those dates as the games that could get them back into the playoff hunt.

After three with the Yankees, the Sox have four against the hottest team in baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays won 10 of 11 games heading into the break and have taken sole possession of second place.

They have regained Cy Young winner David Price on an already stout rotation and are producing enough offense to get the job done. The AL East might be the deepest division in baseball, but the Rays are threatening to make it a two-horse race with their play in July.

After the seven-game homestand, the Red Sox head to Baltimore for a series against the Orioles. Baltimore won 93 games last season and were picked by many to win the division this year. The Orioles lead the majors in home runs by a wide margin. Chris Davis has 37 homers and is within striking distance of a Triple Crown.

Yet the Orioles have holes, primarily in their starting rotation. Scott Feldman was a good pickup, but Baltimore needs more pitching help. The Cubs’ Matt Garza, eminently available in a trade, would be a good fit.

The Red Sox have their own issues. Even though he took the loss in his Red Sox debut, Matt Thornton was a great addition to the bullpen — a hard-throwing lefty with experience. Getting him two weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline was a brilliant move by General Manager Ben Cherington. Now John Farrell has another arm available.

And Cherington is by no means done dealing. The Sox could use more right-handed power, and they’ll have to closely monitor the progress of Clay Buchholz to see if they have enough starting pitching.

A year ago the Red Sox pulled off the best trade of the year, a blockbuster with the Dodgers that allowed Cherington to dump more than a quarter of a billion dollars in salary. They used that money in the offseason to add veteran players with strong clubhouse character. The result is a team of players who like one another and like playing baseball. We didn’t realize how important that was until forced to witness last year’s spiritless team.

That was a season we’d all like to forget. With 65 games to go, the 2013 Red Sox have a chance to make us do just that with a return to the playoffs.

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.


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