BOSTON -- It's not going to put New England into the throes of pennant fever, but it's a start.
With a three-game sweep of the Royals this weekend, the Red Sox have now won seven of their last eight and they are slowly inching closer to returning to .500 with a record of 46-52.
Their 6-0 win Sunday combined with a Baltimore loss to the A's put the Sox 7.5 games behind the American League East leaders.
As one might expect, with the run of victories the Red Sox clubhouse has featured a much lighter collective mood of late. Players know how far away from a playoff spot they are at the moment, but they have confidence in the way they're playing -- something that had been lacking for much of their slide down the standings.
"I think we're having some fun," said catcher David Ross, who hit a two-run homer in the latest victory. "We're having a little bit of fun. We have been for a while. Before the break we played some good baseball and we got a good atmosphere going.
"We're just having some fun. We're getting some good pitching as we have been, but guys have been putting together solid at-bats. Guys are rooting each other on, guys are in to the game."
The positive emotional effects are a reaction to the level of baseball being played. The team is hitting .291 in their last eight games and its pitchers have compiled a 2.25 ERA in the same span. Their run differential in those contests is plus-25.
With its offense, pitching and defense -- both Brock Holt and Stephen Drew made highlight-reel defensive plays on Sunday -- gaining traction, players are encouraged. The consistency that's eluded them for most of the season seems to have been found.
"We always talk about getting on rolls and playing consistent baseball," said Jon Lester, who won his tenth game in the series finale. "That's what we've been able to do over the past . . . maybe 10 games, 12 games, something in there. It's been good to see."
With the Astros and Royals behind them, the Red Sox will now look to make up even more ground in the division as their next 13 contests are against American League rivals.
While manager John Farrell said earlier this week that the schedule sets up for the Red Sox to, in some ways, control their own fate, his players aren't looking at the big-picture view of the calendar.
"I don't think anyone's looking at it like we have to do this now," said Daniel Nava, who had three RBI Sunday. "We're very aware of the nature of where we are. We have to do our job. Whether it's in division competiton or whatever you want to call it, we've got to go out and play well. We've got to do that. That's what we're trying to do. I think we started the second half off the way we'd like to."
Nava's teammates agreed. It's not about running the table in the division, they said. It's about continuing their current level of play. If they can do that, the wins should take care of themselves.
"You can't worry about the next 13, you gotta worry about tomorrow," Lester said. "That's what made us so good last year, and you're starting to kind of see it more and more this year just obviously we've got a lot of guys that weren't around for a better part of last year so they're starting to buy in. They're starting to figure it out. Just keep going at it. One game at a time."