Rockin’ Red Sox:
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.