Rockin’ Red Sox:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - News - Jorge L. Or­tiz

Alex Cora, Mookie Betts and the rea­sons be­hind Bos­ton’s big start. Weekly sched­ules, Page 8 Team notes, Pages 10-15

OAKLAND – The math ge­niuses at MIT might still be try­ing to fig­ure out what’s least likely — for a team that didn’t hit a grand slam last year to bang out five in its first 19 games this sea­son, or for the club with the ma­jors’ best record and most po­tent offense to be held with­out a hit for the first time in a quar­ter cen­tury.

De­spite be­ing si­lenced last week­end by Ath­let­ics left-han­der Sean Manaea, the Red Sox have been the ma­jors’ top team this sea­son, com­bin­ing an ex­plo­sive at­tack with shut­down pitching from both the ro­ta­tion and the bullpen.

Bos­ton has al­ready put to­gether two streaks of at least eight wins while reg­is­ter­ing a run dif­fer­en­tial of +67, eas­ily the best in base­ball.

Here’s a look at what fu­eled Bos­ton’s 17-3 start, which tied for the best 20-game start in fran­chise his­tory. Mookie leads the way

Last sea­son Mookie Betts bat­ted third in the lineup in April, was switched to lead­off for three months, then shut­tled around the top four spots. That re­flected his var­ied skills but also Bos­ton’s des­per­ate search for power, and he did lead the club with 24 homers and 102 RBI.

New man­ager Alex Cora had in­stalled Betts in the lead­off spot for all of his starts en­ter­ing the week, with a direc­tive to be more ag­gres­sive on pitches in the strike zone.

Betts re­sponded by blast­ing six homers, bat­ting .366 and lead­ing the Amer­i­can League with 23 runs scored and a 1.191 on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age.

It might be time to put Betts, an out­stand­ing de­fen­sive right fielder, in the same ex­clu­sive cat­e­gory as Mike Trout — who topped him for 2015 AL MVP — and Bryce Harper when dis­cussing base­ball’s lead­ing stars. A new di­rec­tion

When the Red Sox chose Cora to re­place John Far­rell, some news re­ports harped on his lack of man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence in the ma­jors, gloss­ing over his two win­ter ball sea­sons man­ag­ing his home­town Cri­ol­los de Caguas in Puerto Rico.

Cora, who played 14 sea­sons in the big leagues and was the Hous­ton Astros bench coach last year, said that ex­pe­ri­ence was in­valu­able, teach­ing him what not to do at the helm.

“One thing I promised my­self the next time I man­aged was to have fun,” Cora said. “In Caguas I didn’t have fun. I was ex­tremely de­mand­ing. That may work, but if you don’t have fun as well, then it won’t work. The two times we didn’t reach the fi­nals in the last 10 or 12 years, I was the man­ager. I learned from that.” Deep depth

It’s easy to for­get the Red Sox be­gan the sea­son with twofifths of their pro­jected start­ing ro­ta­tion on the dis­abled list, as Ed­uardo Ro­driguez re­cov­ered from ma­jor knee surgery and Drew Pomer­anz healed from a fore­arm flexor in­jury.

Pomer­anz, a 17-game win­ner last year, didn’t make his first start un­til last week. Ro­driguez, a tal­ented left-han­der who has had prob­lems with both knees, had to skip his first start. No mat­ter.

Not only has Ro­driguez raised his game, win­ning his last two out­ings while al­low­ing just three runs, but un­ex­pected con­trib­u­tors in­clud­ing Hec­tor Ve­lazquez and Brian John­son helped hold down the fort. They went a com­bined 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in three starts be­fore re­turn­ing to the bullpen.

Bos­ton’s Big Three of Chris Sale, David Price — healthy and ef­fec­tive again — and Rick Por­cello has de­liv­ered the goods.


Bos­ton’s Mookie Betts might be one of the three best play­ers in base­ball. He has power, hits for av­er­age and is very ag­gres­sive at the plate.

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