How the Red Sox got their groove back

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CHICAGO - The drudgery that came with riding out a 16-3 win over the White Sox - a 3-hour and 41-minute game that was, for all intent and purposes, over when Kiké Hernandez launched the first pitch of the game over the left field fence - could very have well tempered any sort of celebration.

Nope.

Even after all of it, the party wasn't going stop because of the wind and the cold and the length of game. That much became evident to anyone standing outside the visitors' clubhouse.

The rhythmic clapping echoed through the clubhouse doors, offering a hint of the enthusiasm that seems to be draped over this 20-22 team. Fifteen years before, in the very same dressing room, the 2007 Red Sox could be found spending a rain delay celebrating their existence by dancing while the Hideki Okajima-inspired song 'The Oki Dokie' blared.

That team felt pretty good about themselves. And now, so does this one.

"We know it’s a long season," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora after his team's 19-hit attack. "It’s 162-plus. That’s what we’re shooting for. Obviously, we had a lot of work to do to get to the point we’re at right now. They did an amazing job canceling the noise because it was loud. It was very loud. We understand the process. We understand that it’s 162, and that we have a good baseball team. We’re working very hard to get to the next step. We’re almost there, almost reset the season. We still believe we have a good team and we can compete with the big boys in this division and obviously the league. Just little steps – keep winning series, keep doing that, and the rest will take care of itself."

The perception of this team has done an about-face. That's what winning seven of the last eight games will do. That, along with a complete reversal of identity.

The Red Sox have gone from one of the two worst offensive teams in baseball to the absolute best over these last eight games, totaling a .974 OPS - 116 points higher than the next-best club. They have more extra-base hits than anyone. More total bases. And more runs.

There is the simple explanation that some key players - particularly Trevor Story (who homered for the sixth time in the last five games) - has started to play to the back of their baseball cards.

That's what most of the players inside the room will tell you.

"We talked about how we are playing like we’re capable of," Hernandez said. "Just keep the course, man. We’ve been playing better as of late, but at the same time, we haven’t even played 50 games yet, I don’t think. So, there’s a lot of baseball left, and I don’t think anybody is expecting us to be a team competing for last instead of competing for first. We’re just playing the baseball we’re capable of playing."

There's more to it, however. There usually always is.

The celebrations and good vibes have also been a product of attention to detail, as the coaches showed the hitters on a screen prior to the series-opening win.

"One of the things about coaching, sometimes we don't do a good job of showing them what really is going on. And I believe these type of players nowadays, They love that," Cora explained. "We showed them where we were a month ago – in the zone, chasing pitches, and slugging. We showed them today where we’re at. The progress is unreal. Guys are feeling better, right? I think it's more that than anything else because they're attacking us the same way. But we're doing a much better job. We're still swinging a lot. We like that. But the swing decisions are a lot better. The contact is elite right now."

"We’re always trying to communicate to the guys daily. We showed them a few things in terms of their progress and what has led to a lot of their progress," explained hitting coach Peter Fatse. "We showed them the progress and the things that were driving that."

And all of that was offered before the game, with the Red Sox flipping the script throughout the current month. In April, they were 19th in launch angle and 17th in the percentage of time a ball was barreled up. In May? The Sox own the third-best launch angle, while barreling up more balls than any team in baseball.

The reason, according to Fatse, isn't all that complicated.

"It's crazy because it seems so simple, buy it has been our production early in the count," he said. "When we dominate the strike zone early, we're really hard to pitch to."

It has all clicked, as was evident against the White Sox. And now it has left the Red Sox just two games away from reaching .500 and 2 1/2 games out of what would be a Wild Card spot.

It has always resulted in some really solid late-night dance parties.

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