BOSTON - "Game of Thrones" fans will understand this metaphor, and the rest of you have been wasting your Sunday nights: that rumble on the horizon that's stirring horses across the American League and jangling the nerves of the battle-tested?
It might just be the Dothraki horde finally making its charge.
We're talking about the Red Sox, who have left themselves a lot of ground to cover, so it'll be a while before the standings reflect their improvement. But the underlying components suggest a sustained run of success looms after a mystifyingly miserable April.
On Wednesday, the Red Sox completed a 10-game homestand with their second sweep in four series, and first at home, with a 7-3 victory over the A's. They continued a run of excellent pitching that is now entering its third week, and offensive mainstays like Mookie Betts are showing legitimate signs of life.
Add it up and they have very sneakily won eight of their past 12, which projects to -- hey, why does this number sound familiar? -- 108 wins over the course of a full season.
They may not be playing anywhere near last season's level, but there are reasons to believe they're closer to that than the team that started the season 3-9.
"I think we're heading in the right direction," said outfielder Andrew Benintendi. "I'm sure there's a lot of things we can improve on. Just take it a day at a time, keep grinding, and hopefully keep winning."
They're not fully right yet, but that's actually part of the reason it feels like only a matter of time before they're jockeying with the Yankees and Rays atop the American League East again. And before you howl at such irrational optimism, their latest victory leaves them only four games behind New York, with four in the Bronx looming at the end of May.
"I think we're starting to come around and play better baseball," said starter Rick Porcello, who tossed eight shutout innings on Tuesday. "Those first couple of weeks were not as bad as we were playing, it was going to turn around at some point, but we've still got a lot of ground to make up. The two teams ahead of us are not easy opponents. We've got a lot of work ahead of us. We've got to keep going. It's been nice to have this little bit of a turnaround, but we've got to play even better."
So, why have the last two weeks left us feeling rosier than the first three? Multiple reasons.
Start with the starters. On Wednesday, the Red Sox saw their team ERA drop below 5.00 for the first time all season.
They have limited opponents to four runs or fewer in nine of their past 12 and the starters are leading the way. David Price, Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez are establishing themselves as reliable, and erstwhile ace Chris Sale is coming off his first seven-inning outing of the season, with 18 strikeouts in his past 12 innings.
"We'd all admit that with the exception of D.P., we were absolutely [expletive] for the first couple of weeks," Porcello said while invoking an equine profanity. "You're not going to win ballgames when you're giving up six or eight runs as a starter. We're working hard to get that on track.
"The offense has been great. They've been grinding. They're doing everything they can do that we allow. If we go out there and give up a big number, it's hard to execute your game plan as an offense because you're down, you're challenged. You've got to do different things to try to get runners on base.
"I think us being able to get command of the game a little better has allowed everything to fire a little bit better on all cylinders."
Sale remains a concern, especially with his velocity hovering in the 92-93 mph range and the Red Sox winless in his six starts. But he made strides in his last start, allowing only two earned runs and striking out eight. Even if he has to be a new Sale, there's no reason he can't be an effective Sale.
Then there's Betts. After going 0-for-4 on April 17 in New York, he found himself hitting .200 with three homers and a whole lot of questions. Why wasn't he swinging at fastballs? Why did he keep staring into the dugout for clues in the middle of at-bats? What was happening to the defending MVP?
Two weeks later, those questions feel like some serious gun-jumping. In his past 12 games, Betts is mashing. He's hitting .432 with three homers, nine RBIs, and an OPS pushing 1.300. He may not be as dangerous as he was at this point last season when he had already slammed 12 homers, but like the rest of the team, he's getting there.
"Everybody knows it was only a matter of time, but he works, man," Benintendi said. "He'll be down in the cage taking 100 or 200 swings before a game. He definitely works at it. He knows what he's doing, obviously. Whatever he needs to do to feel right, he'll do. If that's 100 swings, he'll do it and it seems to work."
The offense as a whole still isn't firing, but the Red Sox are finding a way. They scored in five of eight innings on Wednesday and are doing so in unconventional ways. While Mitch Moreland and Christian Vazquez provided thump with solo homers, the Red Sox also manufactured a run when Tzu-Wei Lin shot an excuse-me double to left, took third on a Benintendi bunt, and scored on a Betts sacrifice fly to center.
"We were kidding about it in the dugout like, 'What are we doing?'" Moreland said. "Laid down a bunt there, manufactured a run, it was big. So, it's nice to play a full game."
Manager Alex Cora put it a little differently.
"They're buying in, trying to do anything possible to win," Cora said. "Just do your part and they know if you start doing the little things, good things are going to happen."
They're already happening, which should make the rest of the AL just a little bit queasy. Speaking of which, what's that sound? It's coming from beyond that ridge. Do I hear hooves?
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