For years, this has been a club that has been able to keep things light and fun, even while in a tough stretch. That's been more difficult this year. Maybe it's all the new faces and the nearly daily run of injuries that hasn't allowed the same group of guys to spend time together and get to know one another. Maybe it was the lack of a consistent offense for much of the season, with some of the stalwarts not performing as well as expected.
That's not to say there was something wrong in the clubhouse. Not at all. But to me, at least, it didn't seem as relaxed and jovial as it had in previous years.
It does now. Perhaps the team meeting last Sunday put everyone in the right frame of mind before embarking on this 11-game road trip. This team knows it has to get things going if it wants to make an unlikely run at a playoff spot. That means better understanding the guy beside you.
And a long road trip can help. You're almost forced to spend time together. This trip has had day games in four of the last five games and that means more chances for dinners on the road, too. That may seem like a little thing, but that's a great setting for conversations that lead to bonding.
During the TV pregame show Monday, they showed the team playing some sort of game on the carpet of the visiting clubhouse at Target Field in Minnesota. It looked like nearly the entire team was there and they were all laughing and having a good time.
Reducing expectations can sometimes deflate some pressure, too. The players and the manager still expect to win. But they also know what they're up against. So the mentality changes a bit. The team gets more aggressive. A group of young players with confidence start getting opportunities and taking advantage. The leaders of this team start playing more like they're capable (especially Elvis Andrus at the plate). And the result is a streak of six wins in eight games. The club is over .500 for the first time since May 12.
Maybe this is merely coincidence. But I'm a believer that a close team can become a better team. And this team is getting closer.