As Triple-A Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina noted, the Red Sox were late to the party in the International League playoffs, with Durham and Indianapolis having wrapped up the South and West divisions, respectively, some time ago.
What the PawSox lacked in timeliness, however, they're more than making up for in form.
Pawtucket clinched its second IL North title in three years on Friday, getting a walk-off single from Justin Henry to beat Syracuse, 2-1, before 12,994 at McCoy Stadium.
More to the point, while Durham (86-54) and Indianapolis (80-61) may have stormed ahead to higher win totals, no team can claim to be hotter in recent weeks than Pawtucket (78-62).
With three games left before the start of the Governors' Cup playoffs, the PawSox have won 17 of their last 20.
"Over the last three weeks, we've played really good baseball," DiSarcina said. "For us, it's been our pitching, especially our starting pitching, that's really got us going in the right direction. The defense has been outstanding, and offensively, we're scratching it together right now. We're on a bit of a roll, and depending on how it goes with who we lose, September callups, we feel real good.
"Clinched late, I think the other two teams already clinched for over a week now, but we're very, very excited."
Pawtucket did it in style Friday. Henry singled home newcomer Quintin Berry in the bottom of the ninth inning with his only hit of the night.
Clay Buchholz also turned in a cameo for the PawSox, allowing a run on seven hits while striking out two over 3 1/3 innings in a rehab start.
Red Sox No. 6 prospect Anthony Ranaudo (3-1) played a pivotal role, picking up the win with four hitless innings. He struck out five and issued one walk in his first relief appearance since he was selected 39th overall in the 2010 Draft.
"Tight game the whole way. They pitched really good and they had our number," DiSarcina said. "To scratch that one run across in the bottom of the ninth was very, very exciting. And doing it on a Friday night, in front of a lot of fans, no doubt everyone was really, really pumped."
Shortstop Brock Holt accounted for Pawtucket's other RBI, while first baseman Mark Hamilton went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
Eury Perez, the Nationals' sixth-ranked prospect, had two hits and a stolen base and scored the Chiefs' lone run.