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Red Sox now 17-2, thanks to Moreland's slam

Special to MLB.com

OAKLAND -- Fueled by their recent power surge, the Red Sox continue their march into the record books.

Boston's historic start continued with a 7-3 win in Oakland in Friday night's series opener behind a three-run homer from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a Mitch Moreland grand slam. The Red Sox improved to 17-2, becoming the fifth team in the live-ball era to win 17 of its first 19 games, and the first to do so since the 1987 Brewers.

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OAKLAND -- Fueled by their recent power surge, the Red Sox continue their march into the record books.

Boston's historic start continued with a 7-3 win in Oakland in Friday night's series opener behind a three-run homer from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a Mitch Moreland grand slam. The Red Sox improved to 17-2, becoming the fifth team in the live-ball era to win 17 of its first 19 games, and the first to do so since the 1987 Brewers.

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Two of the other four teams to start 17-2, the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, went on to win the World Series.

Grand slams mean 40% off pizza

After Oakland jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Boston left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who was making his 2018 debut, the Red Sox bats picked up right where they left off in Anaheim. Bradley's long ball in the second tied the game before Moreland's slam in the sixth put Boston ahead for good.

Moreland's shot was Boston's MLB-leading fifth grand slam in its last 12 games. The Red Sox did not hit one in 2017.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marks the first time Boston has ever hit five grand slams before May 1.

The homers were Boston's 12th and 13th on this road trip. The 11 long balls the Red Sox hit in Anaheim before coming to Oakland were their third-most ever in a three-game series. The Sox entered the game with 24 homers, sixth in the Majors.

Do-Hyoung Park is a contributor to MLB.com based in the Bay Area.

Boston Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland

Wright exits first rehab start with stiff back

Poyner set for second outing with Double-A Portland
Special to MLB.com

OAKLAND -- Veteran knuckleballer Steven Wright, who is recovering from left knee surgery that he underwent in May, was removed from his first rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket Friday night after experiencing stiffness in his back.

Wright had thrown 61 pitches in 2 2/3 innings against the Gwinnett Stripers. He had been slated to throw six innings, with an 80-pitch limit.

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OAKLAND -- Veteran knuckleballer Steven Wright, who is recovering from left knee surgery that he underwent in May, was removed from his first rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket Friday night after experiencing stiffness in his back.

Wright had thrown 61 pitches in 2 2/3 innings against the Gwinnett Stripers. He had been slated to throw six innings, with an 80-pitch limit.

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Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced Wright's rehab assignment on Wednesday, but the timetable for Wright's return to the Red Sox remains unclear. The 33-year-old right-hander started the season on the 10-day disabled list following a platelet-rich plasma injection at the site of his surgery.

Wright notched three strikeouts and two walks while allowing three runs (two earned) against Gwinnett on five hits. He exited after allowing a walk and three singles in the third, including a single and a run scored by Ronald Acuna, MLB Pipeline's No. 2 prospect in baseball.

Upon his return, Wright will need to serve a 15-game suspension for a violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

Poyner set to make second rehab appearance

Rookie left-hander Bobby Poyner will make the second appearance of his rehab assignment on Saturday for Double-A Portland, Cora announced Friday.

The Red Sox have not determined if he will join the team for the upcoming series in Toronto.

"He has [an outing] tomorrow, and then we'll make a decision," Cora said.

Poyner started and pitched one inning for Portland on Thursday in his first rehab appearance, allowing one hit and striking out one batter. He threw 12 of his 19 pitches for strikes.

The 25-year-old was placed on the 10-day disabled list on April 12 for a left hamstring strain. He was 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA over seven innings in six relief appearances after making his first Major League roster following a strong Spring Training, during which he recorded an 0.87 ERA with eight strikeouts and a walk over 10 outings.

Pedroia to join team at home

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia will leave extended spring training and rejoin the Red Sox in Boston next week, as he did last homestand, but his return to action remains undecided. Pedroia has been out after undergoing left knee surgery in October.

Cora may have given a hint as to when the veteran second baseman could potentially return.

"He's doing everything, but it's like the beginning of Spring Training for him," Cora said.

Walden optioned to Triple-A

Right-hander Marcus Walden was optioned to Pawtucket following Thursday's 8-2 win over the Angels to make room for Drew Pomeranz, who was activated before starting Friday night's game against the Athletics in Oakland.

Walden, 29, made his first career Major League Opening Day roster after attending Spring Training with the Red Sox as a non-roster invitee. He has appeared in seven big league games over two stints with Boston, posting a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings and a .220 opponent batting average with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Walden earned Pawtucket's Most Valuable Pitcher Award in 2017, his first season in the Red Sox organization. In 218 career Minor League games (117 of them starts), he is 46-45 with a 3.84 ERA.

Do-Hyoung Park is a contributor to MLB.com based in the Bay Area.

Boston Red Sox, Bobby Poyner, Steven Wright

Sox (16-2) off to MLB's best start since 1987

Special to MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- The Red Sox's historic march through April continued Thursday with an 8-2 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium, as they completed a three-game sweep. Boston improved to 16-2, joining rare company in MLB history.

The Red Sox are just the seventh team in the mordern era (since 1900) to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series -- the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

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ANAHEIM -- The Red Sox's historic march through April continued Thursday with an 8-2 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium, as they completed a three-game sweep. Boston improved to 16-2, joining rare company in MLB history.

The Red Sox are just the seventh team in the mordern era (since 1900) to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series -- the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

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"Whatever the record is, and you read about it and think, 'Wow, this is impressive,' they aren't getting caught up in it," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "They show up every day and play. [Now], we go to Oakland, and it's the same goal: try to win the series."

10 amazing facts from Red Sox's historic start

This victory had a familiar theme, with Mookie Betts hitting a leadoff home run and the pitching staff taking charge. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez gave up two runs on three hits over six innings.

Betts also hit a leadoff home run in Tuesday's series opener, when he had his third career three-homer game. It was his 13th career leadoff homer, extending his Red Sox record, and his sixth home run of the season.

Video: BOS@LAA: Betts belts 13th leadoff home run of career

"I feel good, and I'm just trying to get good pitches and swing it the right way," Betts said. "This offense, we kind of feed off each other, so I know that if I can get things started there, I know we're going to score some runs."

The hottest starts in MLB history

The Red Sox, who have won seven in a row, not only outscored the Angels, 27-3, in the series, but they batted .371. Their 11 home runs were the third most in a three-game series in franchise history, and their most since hitting a franchise-record 16 against the Yankees from June 17-19, 1977. And it's also the first time Boston has gone 16-1 over a 17-game stretch since Aug. 16-Sept. 3, 2004.

So what do the Red Sox make of it all?

"Nothing," Betts said. "It's three games. We played well. We're a good team, they're a good team. It's still early. We have to turn the page and get ready for the next series."

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez lines an RBI double to left

After the Angels tied it at 1 on a Zack Cozart RBI single in the second inning, J.D. Martinez ripped an RBI double and Rafael Devers had an RBI single in the fourth, giving Boston a 3-1 advantage.

The Red Sox added two more runs in the sixth on an Andrew Benintendi solo home run and another RBI single from Devers. One night after hitting his first career grand slam, Devers went 3-for-3. Martinez also had three hits for the Red Sox.

"It's been awesome ever since the start of Spring Training, and it keeps it loose and we're having fun," said Benintendi, who went 2-for-5 with three RBIs. "Usually, when you do that, you play well."

Video: BOS@LAA: Benintendi rips a two-run single in the 9th

Mitch Moreland added a run for the Red Sox with a sacrifice fly in the eighth, and Benintendi had a two-run single in the ninth.

The Red Sox have 24 homers in 18 games this season. Last season, they hit only 168 home runs, the lowest total in the American League.

"And the weather is not too good in Boston," Benintendi said. "I'm sure there were balls hit there that would have been home runs, if it wasn't freezing cold. I think it's just how it's been this year. I don't think it's been a mentality, or anything like that."

Cora is the first manager since 1900 to win 16 of his first 18 games in his first season with a club.

"We're playing quality baseball, and we're pretty good right now," Cora said. "We're pitching, and we're playing good defense. We're hitting the ball, and we're driving the ball. We're impressive on the bases. We're putting pressure [on the opponent] in every aspect."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Halting momentum: Just when it seemed the Angels had a bit of confidence against the Red Sox for the first time in the series, the Red Sox took back the momentum. After Los Angeles' Chris Young trimmed Boston's lead to 3-2 with a solo homer in the bottom of the fifth, Benintendi answered with one of his own in the sixth. Devers had an RBI single later in the inning to make it 5-2.

Video: BOS@LAA: Devers hits his second RBI single of game

SOUND SMART
Before this three-game sweep, the Red Sox were 6-14 in their last 20 games at Angel Stadium. Their last sweep in Anaheim was a four-game set in 2011.

HE SAID IT
"We work on every pitch [between starts], but I worked a little more on [the changeup], because the last couple of starts, I didn't use it that much. Today, it was working," -- Rodriguez, after earning his second win of the season

Video: BOS@LAA: Rodriguez gives up three hits in six innings

UP NEXT
The Red Sox continue their three-city, nine-game road trip when they open a three-game series at Oakland on Friday at 10:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz is set to make his 2018 debut after opening the season on the disabled list with a mild flexor strain in his left forearm. He won a career-high 17 games last season. Kendall Graveman will start for the A's.

Doug Padilla is a contributor to MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Eduardo Rodriguez

Betts extends his record for Sox leadoff HRs

Special to MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts continued to torment the Angels on Thursday night during Boston's 8-2 win, as he led off the game with a home run down the left-field line.

It was the 13th leadoff homer of Betts' career, extending his Red Sox record. He also hit a leadoff homer in Tuesday's opener against the Halos, when he had his third career three-homer game.

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ANAHEIM -- Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts continued to torment the Angels on Thursday night during Boston's 8-2 win, as he led off the game with a home run down the left-field line.

It was the 13th leadoff homer of Betts' career, extending his Red Sox record. He also hit a leadoff homer in Tuesday's opener against the Halos, when he had his third career three-homer game.

View Full Game Coverage

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, who allowed two runs over six innings, was appreciative for the early run support.

"It changes for everybody [that pitches]," Rodriguez said. "He goes up there and hits the homer, you feel a little bit better every time. When somebody does that, it's 1-0 already, and you try to keep the [opponent] at zero."

Betts has six home runs this season, four of which came during this series.

Betts' performance has been part of a power surge for the Red Sox to open their three-city, nine-game road trip. His leadoff homer was Boston's 10th home run of the series, then Andrew Benintendi went deep later in the game for No. 11.

"It was a 2-0 slider, he stays on it, and it's 1-0 us," manager Alex Cora said of Betts' leadoff homer. "He's putting pressure on the opposition from pitch one. That's what we had in mind from the get-go, and he's executed."

Betts has reached base to begin eight of the 16 games he has started in the leadoff spot. He also has a hit in 13 of his last 15 games.

"I'm just trying to get on base, or do something to help score a run," Betts said. "That's why you're up there, to score runs, and I know that. I'm just trying to do something to impact the game, and a couple went over the wall."

Betts might make it sound simple, but his start to the season has made franchise history. His 22 runs scored moved him past Johnny Pesky (21 in 1950) and Ted Williams (21 in 1942) for the most by a Red Sox hitter through 18 games since at least 1908.

"Obviously, [the confidence] is really high in every game we play in," Betts said. "We feel like we have a chance to win. That's all you can really ask. The pitchers are doing great and giving us hitters the opportunities to help win games. We're having some timely hits, and we have to build on innings throughout the game, not just late. It seems like we can score at any given time."

Doug Padilla is a contributor to MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts

10 amazing facts from Red Sox's historic start

MLB.com

Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Boston kept rolling Thursday night, beating the Angels by an 8-2 score to win its seventh game in a row and complete a three-game sweep over the team with the next-best record in the American League. The Red Sox are now 16-2, extending the best start in franchise history.

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Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Boston kept rolling Thursday night, beating the Angels by an 8-2 score to win its seventh game in a row and complete a three-game sweep over the team with the next-best record in the American League. The Red Sox are now 16-2, extending the best start in franchise history.

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As the team's incredible run continues, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the most impressive facts and figures about Boston this season.

1. The 2018 Red Sox are just the fifth team in the live-ball era, which began in 1920, to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. And they're the first team in over 30 years to do so. The other four teams:

• 1987 Brewers: 17-1
• 1984 Tigers: 16-2
• 1981 A's: 17-1
• 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers: 16-2

Two of those four teams -- the 1984 Tigers (who would win an incredible 35 of their first 40 games that year) and the 1955 Dodgers -- went on to win the World Series.

2. Even if you expand the time period to baseball's entire modern era -- that is, since 1900 -- this Red Sox team is just the seventh to start its season 16-2 or better. The two other entries to the list: the 1918 New York Giants (17-1) and the 1911 Tigers (16-2). Including Boston, that means five AL teams have accomplished the feat, compared to two National League teams.

3. It's hard to believe this team lost on Opening Day. Since then, the Red Sox have won 16 of 17 games. The last time Boston went 16-1 in any 17-game stretch? That would be 2004, when the Sox went 16-1 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 3. You might remember that history-making Red Sox team, which shattered the Curse of the Bambino and won the franchise's first World Series since 1918.

4. Boston has already outscored its opponents by 66 runs this season, by far the best run differential in baseball. The Red Sox have scored 116 runs -- the most in MLB, with the Blue Jays next at 106 -- and they have allowed just 50, the third fewest of any team. Toronto is the next-closest team to Boston by run differential, and the Jays are nearly 30 behind, at plus-37.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez lines an RBI double to left

5. The Red Sox plus-66 run differential is actually historically good. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's tied for the fourth-highest run differential through a team's first 18 games in the entire modern era (since 1900). It's the best run differential by any team through 18 games since the 1993 Tigers.

Best run differential through 18 team games
Modern era (since 1900)
1. 1905 New York Giants: +80
2. 1918 New York Giants: +72
3. 1993 Tigers: +67
4. 2018 Red Sox: +66
4. 1902 Pirates: +66

6. Alex Cora is having unprecedented success for a rookie manager. Per Elias, in the modern era (since 1900), the only other skipper to win at least 16 of his first 18 games as an MLB manager was Joe Morgan -- also for the Red Sox, in 1988. (Morgan won 17 of his first 18 games.)

But Morgan was a midseason replacement for John McNamara, and those wins came in July. Cora is the first manager since 1900 to start a season with a new club by winning at least 16 of the first 18 games.

7. The Red Sox offense is clicking on all cylinders. As a team, Boston leads the Major Leagues in batting average (.292), on-base percentage (.362), slugging percentage (.496) and OPS (.859). The Sox have also struck out in just 16.3 percent of plate appearances, the lowest rate of any team.

In the just-completed sweep of the Angels, the Red Sox mashed 11 home runs, with the highlight a six-homer game in the series opener, including three by Mookie Betts. Those 11 home runs are the most the Sox have hit in a three-game series since 1977, when they hit a team-record 16 against the Yankees from June 17-19.

Video: BOS@LAA: Benintendi blasts first homer of the season

8. The pitching has been almost as good as the hitting. Red Sox starting pitchers are now 12-1 with a 1.98 ERA, the lowest by any rotation in the Major Leagues. Their relievers, meanwhile, have not allowed a run in their last 14 innings pitched, and just one run in their past 20 innings. Hitters are just 3-for-their-past-48 against Boston's bullpen.

Video: BOS@LAA: Rodriguez gives up three hits in six innings

9. Betts is providing the Red Sox a huge spark at the top of the order. He leads the Major Leagues with a .391 batting average, a 1.277 OPS and 22 runs scored -- the most runs by a Red Sox player in the team's first 18 games since at least 1908. (Johnny Pesky had 21 runs scored through 18 games in 1950, and Ted Williams had 21 in 1942.) In the Angels series, Betts twice led off the game with a home run, extending his own franchise record for most leadoff home runs to 13.

Video: BOS@LAA: Betts belts 13th leadoff home run of career

And, of course, there was Betts' three-home-run game, which was the third of his career. The 25-year-old is just the third player in Major League history with three three-homer games before turning 26. The others: Boog Powell and Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

Video: Must C Crushed: Betts HRs off Ohtani, slugs two more

10. The previous franchise record for most wins in the team's first 18 games was 15, established by the 1946 Boston club. The 1946 Red Sox moved to 15-3 by beating none other than Hall of Famer Bob Feller -- and they kept on winning after that. Actually, their 18th game came in the middle of a 15-game winning streak that took them from 7-3 to 21-3. In other words, the 2018 Sox will actually have to keep winning if they want to match their predecessors' pace.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Boston Red Sox

Buck on Betts: 'Best right fielder I've ever seen'

Red Sox right fielder putting himself into AL MVP Award discussion
MLB.com @MikeLupica

You can start, if you want to, just for fun, with some of the things Mookie Betts is not, right before you get to all the pretty wonderful things he is on a baseball field. Betts is not Mike Trout, for example. He's not ever going to make the kind of money Bryce Harper is going to make after this season. Betts has not been past the first round of the playoffs yet in his Red Sox career. He's not an American League MVP Award winner, at least not yet, even if he did finish second in the voting once.

You want one more? Betts is not included nearly often enough in the conversation about the best young players in the deepest and best crop of young players in all of baseball history. But now we're talking. Because when you add it all up with Betts, when you look at his offense and at his defense, you need to ask yourself a question:

You can start, if you want to, just for fun, with some of the things Mookie Betts is not, right before you get to all the pretty wonderful things he is on a baseball field. Betts is not Mike Trout, for example. He's not ever going to make the kind of money Bryce Harper is going to make after this season. Betts has not been past the first round of the playoffs yet in his Red Sox career. He's not an American League MVP Award winner, at least not yet, even if he did finish second in the voting once.

You want one more? Betts is not included nearly often enough in the conversation about the best young players in the deepest and best crop of young players in all of baseball history. But now we're talking. Because when you add it all up with Betts, when you look at his offense and at his defense, you need to ask yourself a question:

How many two-way players are better than the leadoff man for the Red Sox who, oh by the way, has been the best player in baseball this April?

Here is what Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who has seen plenty of Betts in the AL East, says about him:

"I've told anyone who will listen. He's the best right fielder I've ever seen in person. The dynamic he creates for them defensively in right field at Fenway is a big advantage for Boston. Special player. Game changer. The term five-tool player is used loosely. But it aptly describes him. One of my most favorite players in our game."

Here is what AJ Hinch, whose Astros beat Betts' Red Sox in the AL Division Series last season, says about Betts:

"He is an incredible talent. I love his energy, and impact. Offensively, he is never off the fastball, and can time up any velocity. A dangerous hitter because of how he barrels up pitches. Defensively, he has every skill you look for. He's a premier player in this league. He can do it all on any given day."

Again: We talk a lot, and properly so, about Trout and Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, about Harper and Manny Machado and Hinch's gifted shortstop, Carlos Correa -- another wonderful two-way player, at bat and in the field. But we do not talk nearly enough about Betts, except perhaps right now, when he is hitting .391 and hit three home runs the other night and might have had a chance for four if there hadn't been a double play before his last at-bat.

Betts has now hit three homers in a game three times already in his five-year career. It happens to be something that Willie Mays also did three times, and Joe DiMaggio did three times. Babe Ruth did it twice. So did Ken Griffey Jr.

Video: Mookie Betts collects a trio of three-homer games

These are Betts' stats for his four full seasons in the big leagues, starting in 2015 (he played 52 games in '14, hit .291, with five home runs and 18 RBIs), all the way through Thursday night's game against the Angels:

2015: .291 AVG, 18 homers, 77 RBIs, 92 runs, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS.
2016: .318 AVG, 31 homers, 113 RBIs, 122 runs, 26 stolen bases, .897 OPS.
2017: .264 AVG, 24 homers, 102 RBIs, 101 runs, 26 steals, .803 OPS.
2018: .391 AVG, 6 homers, 14 RBIs, 22 runs, 1.277 OPS.

In addition to his six homers, Betts has scored 22 runs -- the most through 18 games in Red Sox history. And then there is his play in right field, which is as good as you will ever see with your own eyes, just as Showalter, who has seen plenty in his baseball life, said.

Of course with a player's defense, we now have better tools than ever to measure performance, and Betts is clearly the No. 1 right fielder in this area. According to Statcast™'s Outs Above Average (OAA) metric, Betts has 36 OAA since the start of 2016, which is 10 more than anyone at that position. That's right, even better than Jason Heyward, who is second to Betts with 26 OAA in that time, and was pretty much given $184 million because he is a terrific fielder himself.

Video: TB@BOS: Statcast™ measures Betts' five-star catch

Since the start of 2015, Betts has a WAR of 23.4 (per Baseball Reference), behind only Trout at 28.1. He is a force of baseball nature. Betts has come into 2018 swinging, being more aggressive than ever at the urging of new Red Sox manager Alex Cora. He is, in Hinch's words, "barreling up" on just about everything he sees, as the Red Sox have barreled to the top of the standings for all of baseball so far. Betts does not hit home runs the way Harper does, or Judge does. But among the sport's biggest stars in the outfielder, only Trout is in the same conversation with him. 

"There's a different approach [this season]," Cora said of Betts on WEEI radio on Thursday. "I think [Betts] set the tempo on the first-pitch fastball of the season when he almost took it out of the ballpark in Tampa against [Chris] Archer. Instead of just working the count, taking pitches right down the middle and falling behind, he's ready to attack from the get-go. You can see now pitchers, they know what's going on so they have to grind from the first pitch with every at-bat. I don't think it's a hot stretch. I think this is the guy. Obviously his OPS is not going to be 1.400. He'll be over .900, and that's a good leadoff hitter. I mean, that's elite. That's what we wanted from the get-go, and he's done an outstanding job."

Video: BOS@TB: Kiermaier robs Betts of extra bases in 1st

Yeah. Betts has done that, before the age of 26. He is that good, well on his way to being one of the great players of his time. Silly to talk about what Betts is not for even five more minutes. Only what he is. Right there in front of everybody's eyes. 

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts

Pawtucket hosting 'Evil Empire' weekend

Few sports rivalries are as consistently heated and drama-filled as that between the Yankees and Red Sox. Each season, the two teams battle it out in the American League East, the rivalry growing deeper each game. 

For quite some time now, too, the Yankees have come to be known as the "Evil Empire" by their detractors, dating back to the George Steinbrenner era of the late 1990s. That, of course, is a "Star Wars" reference, with the aforementioned Empire the bad guys of George Lucas' universe, battling Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the gang for galactic supremacy.

Ockimey among top prospect performers

Brewers duo impresses on both sides of the ball
MLB.com @wboor

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Thursday.

The Brewers' top two prospects showed a bit of why they are so highly-touted on Thursday night.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Thursday.

The Brewers' top two prospects showed a bit of why they are so highly-touted on Thursday night.

Milwaukee's No. 1 prospect Keston Hiura (No. 56 overall) hit his first homer of the season in a 2-for-5 showing with Class A Advanced Carolina while Corbin Burnes (Brewers' No. 2, No. 69 overall) spun a scoreless start and picked up the win for Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Hiura, who hit .371 in 42 games after he was picked in the first round a season ago, got off to a slow start this season, but he appears to be finding his rhythm. The 21-year-old has hits in four of his past five games, raising his average from .143 to .220 over that timeframe.

Hiura's first homer of 2018

Burnes was impressive from start to finish as he struck out the side in the first inning, setting the tone for things to come. The right-hander notched at least one strikeout in five of his first six innings, ultimately finishing with nine.

Burnes faced one batter in the seventh, got a flyout, then was lifted after yielding three hits over 6 1/3 innings.

Burnes rings up ninth strikeout

Other top prospect performances from Thursday's action:

• No. 3 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays' No. 1) is hitting .362/.411/.596 after going 2-for-4 with Double-A New Hampshire. Guerrero has hits in 10 of 12 games this season and has notched multiple hits in five of his past six games. While Guerrero was contributing on the offensive end, Jordan Romano (No. 27) kept Binghamton in check with seven innings of one-run ball.

• No. 23 overall prospect Austin Hays (Orioles' No. 1) was responsible for half of Double-A Bowie's offense in a 6-1 win over Richmond. Hays finished just 1-for-4, but he drove in three runs via a sacrifice fly in the first and a two-run homer in the ninth. Cedric Mullins (Orioles' No. 7) collected a season-high three hits, going 3-for-5, and Keegan Akin (Orioles' No. 9) picked up his first win of the year as he struck out seven over six innings of one-run ball.

Hays goes the other way

• No. 38 overall prospect Jack Flaherty (Cardinals' No. 2) spun the first complete game of his career (seven innings) and moved to 3-0 as he led Triple-A Memphis to a win over Omaha in Game 1 of a doubleheader. The 22-year-old right hander gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and struck out six while throwing 67 of his 95 pitches for strikes.

Flaherty finishes complete game

• No. 97 overall prospect Austin Riley (Braves' No. 8) is swinging a scorching-hot bat for Double-A Mississippi. The 21-year-old, who went 3-for-3, is hitting .408 after his fourth straight multi-hit effort. Over those four games, Riley is 10-for-15 with six extra-base hits and five RBIs.

• No. 99 overall prospect Blake Rutherford (White Sox No. 7) continued his hot start and extended his hitting streak to six games, going 4-for-5 with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. Rutherford, who is batting .404 through 11 games, also set a career high with four RBIs. Micker Adolfo (No. 10) also contributed to the win, hitting his third homer of the year.

Rutherford's two-run single

Athletics No. 8 prospect Sean Murphy pushed his average to .409 with his fourth consecutive multi-hit performance for Double-A Midland. Murphy, who hit just .209 in 53 games with Midland last season, went 4-for-5 and is off to a particularly fast start at the plate. The 23-year-old has hits in nine of the 11 games he's played in and has also racked up nine RBIs.

Murphy knocks out four hits

• Braves No. 10 prospect Joey Wentz was once again dominant for Class A Advanced Florida. Wentz retired the first five batters he faced on his way toward hurling five scoreless innings. The 20-year-old hasn't given up a run in either of his past two starts (10 innings) and has allowed just one run all season. Wentz struck out six, including the final two batters he faced, and has now fanned 15 in 14 innings.

Cubs No. 3 prospect Oscar De La Cruz bounced back from a couple rough starts to spin a gem for Double-A Tennessee. The right-hander gave up 11 earned runs over six innings in his first two starts, but he showed no signs of struggle against Montgomery. De La Cruz dominated through six scoreless frames, surrendering just one hit and striking out six.

De La Cruz fans six

• Pirates prospects Calvin Mitchell (No. 16) and Travis MacGregor (No. 25) led Class A West Virginia to a 3-0 win over Asheville. Mitchell, who finished 2-for-4, provided all the offense with a three-run homer in the third while MacGregor did his part by pitching six scoreless innings. MacGregor, who struck out six and yielded three hits, has given up just one earned run over three starts this season.

Red Sox No. 11 prospect Josh Ockimey picked the perfect time -- waiting until the bases were loaded -- to hit his first homer of the season. The 22-year-old went 3-for-4 for Double-A Portland and put the game out of reach with a grand slam in the seventh.

Royals No. 25 prospect Chase Vallot snapped an 0-for-17 skid with a first-inning grand slam for Class A Advanced Wilmington. Vallot picked up a fifth RBI via a bases-loaded walk in the fourth, but is still having a tough time at the plate as he finished 1-for-5.

Angels No. 29 prospect Joe Gatto gave up five runs in three innings in his last start with Class A Advanced Inland Empire, but he bounced back in a big way against Lancaster. The 22-year-old right-hander fired 53 of his 79 pitches for strikes as he struck out nine and yielded three hits over six scoreless frames. Gatto struck out the side in the first and notched at least one strikeout in five of his six innings.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Home-plate umpire Layne hit by foul ball, exits

MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Home-plate umpire Jerry Layne left Thursday's Red Sox-Angels game with an injury after a Mike Trout foul ball hit his right elbow in the first inning.

Layne is day to day with bruising. X-rays were negative.

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ANAHEIM -- Home-plate umpire Jerry Layne left Thursday's Red Sox-Angels game with an injury after a Mike Trout foul ball hit his right elbow in the first inning.

Layne is day to day with bruising. X-rays were negative.

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"It was loud," Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez said. "I heard the sound, and I heard Jerry hurt, so it was bad."

Greg Gibson, who was originally umpiring first base, took over behind the plate, as the crew remained with just three umpires.

Avery Yang is a reporter for MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels

AL East: Checking in on the new guys

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

In April, everything is magnified. The numbers that are on the scoreboard and in box scores represent a small sample size, but they are still the numbers fans fixate on, because there is nothing else to go off yet. This is particularly true for the key newcomers for each team.

Here is a look at how it is going for five newbies in the American League East.

In April, everything is magnified. The numbers that are on the scoreboard and in box scores represent a small sample size, but they are still the numbers fans fixate on, because there is nothing else to go off yet. This is particularly true for the key newcomers for each team.

Here is a look at how it is going for five newbies in the American League East.

Blue Jays
Who's the new guy?
Right fielder Randal Grichuk

How's it going so far? Grichuk had just three hits in his first 42 at-bats before he homered and hit a key double against the Royals in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader. Grichuk entered play on Thursday with 19 strikeouts over 61 plate appearances, and he has yet to live up to the hype as Jose Bautista's replacement in right field.

Video: KC@TOR: Grichuk rips a 114.1-mph three-run homer

What's on deck? Grichuk has a pair a 20-plus homer seasons on his resume, so there's a reasonable expectation that he should be able to turn things around. It needs to happen soon, because Teoscar Hernandez will push him for playing time in right.

Number to know: The offensive production hasn't been there, but Grichuk was credited with two defensive runs saved in his first 14 starts in right field this season.

Orioles
Who's the new guy?
Starting pitcher Andrew Cashner

How's it going so far? After a rocky debut, Cashner has had three consecutive quality starts. Cashner credits fellow newcomer Alex Cobb for helping him with his breaking ball. After giving up three homers in his first start, Cashner has allowed a total of two in his past three starts. To this point, he looks to be the solid No. 2 starter the Orioles thought they were getting.

Video: BAL@DET: Cashner fans Goodrum for his fifth K

What's on deck? Cashner faces a tough test on Sunday in the Indians, who have won the AL Central title the past two years. Though Cleveland got off to a slow start at the plate, manager Terry Francona's team has plenty of firepower in the lineup.

Number to know: While he's not a big power pitcher, Cashner has 21 strikeouts in his first 24 innings.

Rays
Who's the new guy?
Right-hander Yonny Chirinos

How's it going so far? Chirinos became the first Rays pitcher to begin his career without allowing a run in the first two starts. Thus far, he has only started games that were designated as "bullpen days" under the Rays' new pitching plan.

Video: TEX@TB: Chirinos fans Guzman to end the frame

What's on deck? Chirinos' performance to date has fueled speculation that the Rays will slide him into the rotation in the near future.

Number to know: 14 1/3. That's the number of scoreless innings Chirinos logged to start the season.

Red Sox
Who's the new guy?
Designated hitter/outfielder J.D. Martinez

How's it going so far? The slugger is off to a modest start, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Martinez's career homer total in March/April is by far his lowest of any month. He has made some contributions, most notably a grand slam against the Yankees on April 11. Martinez has come through in many of the RBI opportunities he's had, and he has fit in well with his teammates. There's no reason to think the Red Sox didn't get the right guy when they signed Martinez.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez notches four hits, RBI in 9-0 win

What's on deck? More home runs, and soon. It should only be a matter of time before Martinez starts clearing the fences on a regular basis. Away from the chilly conditions of Boston for the next week -- the Red Sox play at Anaheim, Oakland and Toronto (where the roof is likely to be closed) -- Martinez has a good chance to get hot.

Number to know: .992. That is Martinez's OPS in his first nine home games for the Red Sox, which is a sign of how quickly he has gained comfort at Fenway. As Martinez promised, he has not shifted away from his all-fields approach.

Yankees
Who's the new guy?
Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton

How's it going so far? Not exactly how Stanton or the Yankees would have anticipated after his terrific debut, slugging two homers on Opening Day at Toronto. Stanton has heard frequent boos at Yankee Stadium, though he said that he understands why he is being singled out by his new fan base, given the expectations that accompanied his arrival.

Video: Must C Classic: Stanton hits two HRs in Yanks debut

What's on deck? Manager Aaron Boone has batted Stanton third in each of the Yankees' 16 games to this point, and said on Tuesday that he is considering lowering the slugger in the lineup -- "but not too far." Boone believes that Stanton's track record is too solid for this to continue forever, and when he does play to his career norms, opponents will pay for these early struggles.

Number to know: .086. Stanton's batting average through eight games at Yankee Stadium, where he is 3-for-35 with 20 strikeouts. Stanton is hitting .323 (10-for-31) in eight road games.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Andrew Cashner, Yonny Chirinos, Randal Grichuk, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton

This is why the Red Sox are so good so far

Boston's offense has MLB's highest slugging, lowest strikeout rate
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Last year's Red Sox lineup was one of baseball's weakest in the power department, finishing last in the American League in home runs and next to last in slugging percentage. You knew that, because it was talked about endlessly all offseason, particularly regarding their months-long pursuit of slugger J.D. Martinez.

Despite the lack of power, it was always clear this lineup was going to be better. Way back in February, we noted that Boston projected to be baseball's third-best offense, and it wasn't just about Martinez. It was because it was all but a guarantee that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would improve from down years after playing through hand injuries, and because new manager Alex Cora's insistence that he wanted the lineup to be more aggressive seemed like a step in the right direction.

Last year's Red Sox lineup was one of baseball's weakest in the power department, finishing last in the American League in home runs and next to last in slugging percentage. You knew that, because it was talked about endlessly all offseason, particularly regarding their months-long pursuit of slugger J.D. Martinez.

Despite the lack of power, it was always clear this lineup was going to be better. Way back in February, we noted that Boston projected to be baseball's third-best offense, and it wasn't just about Martinez. It was because it was all but a guarantee that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would improve from down years after playing through hand injuries, and because new manager Alex Cora's insistence that he wanted the lineup to be more aggressive seemed like a step in the right direction.

Well, the Red Sox have been better, but at least early on, we may have undersold them by suggesting they could be the "third-best" offense. They're the best, by a lot, and a big part of that is because they're pulling off a trick that last year's World Series champions in Houston managed to do.

Boston has baseball's highest slugging percentage, at .485. It has baseball's lowest strikeout percentage, at 16.6 percent. The Red Sox are hitting the ball a lot, and destroying the balls they connect with. It's how you end up with baseball's highest runs-per-game, at 6.4. It's the perfect combination.

That's impressive on a team basis, but also look at what's happened on an individual basis. Ten batters have taken at least 30 plate appearances for Boston in both 2017 and '18. Every single one has had at least a small decrease in strikeout rate.

Now, let's be clear about one thing: While contact is good, simply making contact does not by itself make you a good offense. Last year, two of the five best contact teams were the punchless Royals and Giants, who were below-average offenses. When the 2015 Royals famously rode a contact-heavy approach to a title, the next two best contact teams were the A's and the Braves, who lost 94 and 95 games, respectively. It's good, but there has to be more.

Aside from the fact that it's still early in the season, how exactly have the Red Sox pulled this off? Let's check out three possibilities.

New faces
Because of the extended courtship of Martinez, and because he out-slugged everyone in baseball last season -- even Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton -- it's tempting to simply point to the fact that there's a new elite bat in the lineup. Martinez is fantastic, and he's hitting .313/.343/.578, while Boston is no longer giving time to Chris Young (.235/.322/.387 last year) or Pablo Sandoval (.212/.269/.354), so there's some truth to that. Martinez is wonderful. He'd help any lineup.

That said, Martinez has hit only 70 times so far. Pretty much everyone else is the same, other than the fact last year's rookie sensation at third base, Rafael Devers, is around from day one this year. They've helped, but it's not just about new talent.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez notches four hits, RBI in 9-0 win

Better health
Since much of the improvement is simply about existing guys performing better, this is a natural place to look, and there's some pretty obvious stories here.

We knew that Bogaerts' second-half slide was in some way related to being hit by a pitch on July 6, as he hit .308/.363/.455 before that and just .232/.321/.340 after, and he admitted as much during Spring Training.

"To a point, I do regret [playing through pain], but it's over with," Bogaerts told MLB.com in February. "We were in the heat of things, we were pushing for the playoffs. You don't want to be the guy on the bench not being able to help your team to win. You learn, and I definitely did."

Bogaerts was off to a smoking start (.368/.400/.711) this season before injuring his ankle.

We knew, also, that Betts playing through a thumb injury hampered his performance last season. He went from .280/.356/.490 through the end of June, and just .248/.332/.427 after that. 

"It's been going on for a couple months, but I was able to just kind of play through it," Betts said when he was forced to come out of a game against the Rays in September due to a thumb contusion. So far in 2018, he's been baseball's best hitter.

Finally, Hanley Ramirez, who struggled through most of 2017, underwent left shoulder surgery in October. After hitting .242/.320/.429 last year, he's slugging .322/.369/.542 so far.

Video: BAL@BOS: Ramirez cranks a two-run homer to left field

A new approach
This is the one that got the most press, simply due to Cora talking about being more aggressive. There's something to this, though this is hardly the whole story.

Last year, Boston hitters went after 57 percent of pitches in the zone or on the edges. That was 30th in baseball. This year, that number is up to 63 percent. That's the most in baseball. As you'd imagine, that's the largest jump in baseball.

So yes, there's something to be said for "swinging at strikes," which the Red Sox now are -- especially because they have a .318 average and a .550 slugging on those pitches, each the best in baseball. It's not just about swinging either, it's about swinging earlier. For the past decade, Boston was always in the bottom three in baseball in swinging at in-zone strikes early in the count (0-0, 0-1, 1-0). This year, the Red Sox have done that the second most. As a result, they've found themselves in the fourth-fewest two-strike counts in the game. It's hard to strike out when you never see two strikes.

But there's more to it than just that. Betts, for example, has done more than just be aggressive, he's changed the way he's hitting entirely. After spending the past three years hitting grounders between 38 percent and 41 percent of the time, that's dropped all the way to 26 percent -- while his pull percentage has jumped from his career mark of 41 percent to 57 percent.

You can see it in the outcomes, too. Only two teams have a higher hard-hit percentage than Boston's 42.1 percent. Only four teams have a lower ground-ball percentage than the Red Sox's 41.7 percent. No one, as we said, strikes out less. This is essentially what the perfect offense is supposed to look like.

Now, Betts won't hit like this all year, most likely. Bogaerts can't slug .711 all season. Then again, Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn't done much yet (.228/.313/.351). Dustin Pedroia hasn't stepped on the field yet. Only two teams in baseball have gotten less offense from their catchers. As some fall back, others may step up.

We saw the Astros doing this last year, paired with a very good pitching staff. The Red Sox are doing it this year, paired with a very good pitching staff. You don't get off to a 15-2 start by accident.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez

Fenway set to host Army-Navy, ALS event

Two college games and a high-school game will be played this weekend
MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

Fenway Park will be the site of two college baseball games and a high-school game this weekend. Army takes on Navy on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET, and Boston College plays Florida State on Sunday in its annual ALS Awareness Game at 3 p.m. In addition to the Boston College-Florida State game, Xaverian Brothers High School will play St. John's Prep at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday as part of the ALS awareness event.

Proceeds from the Army-Navy game will benefit the Home Base Program, a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation that helps veterans suffering from PTSD and other "invisible wounds of war." All members of the military who attend the game in uniform will have free admission.

Fenway Park will be the site of two college baseball games and a high-school game this weekend. Army takes on Navy on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET, and Boston College plays Florida State on Sunday in its annual ALS Awareness Game at 3 p.m. In addition to the Boston College-Florida State game, Xaverian Brothers High School will play St. John's Prep at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday as part of the ALS awareness event.

Proceeds from the Army-Navy game will benefit the Home Base Program, a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation that helps veterans suffering from PTSD and other "invisible wounds of war." All members of the military who attend the game in uniform will have free admission.

All proceeds from the two Sunday games will benefit patients and families living with ALS through the Pete Frates Home Health Initiative -- a cause particularly important to Boston College and both high schools participating.

The annual ALS Awareness Game began in 2012, when Frates, a graduate of St. John's Prep and Boston College, was diagnosed with ALS. Frates is a former captain of the Boston College baseball team, and he has had ALS for six years.

Brother Raymond Hoyt, a longtime teacher and assistant principal at Xaverian Brothers High School, died with ALS in October 2017, only 15 months after his diagnosis.

The first five ALS Awareness Games were played at Eddie Pellagrini Diamond at Commander Shea Field. This will be the second year the game is played at Fenway Park.

General admission tickets for the Army-Navy game are $10, and are available at www.redsox.com/armynavy. Tickets for the single-admission doubleheader (high-school game, followed by Boston College vs. Florida State) on Sunday are also $10 and available at www.redsox.com/alsgame.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Boston Red Sox

Sox improve to 15-2 behind hot bats, Porcello