Red Sox

Red Sox

BOSTON -- Alex Cora wants his offense to operate like the world's most efficient DMV -- keep the line moving.

That can't happen without a fast start, and Andrew Benintendi has been providing it. On Thursday, that meant working a nine-pitch walk leading off against Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann to jump-start a 2-for-3 night in a 7-3 win over the Tigers.

The lineup Cora envisioned this winter when he named Benintendi his new leadoff hitter in a flip with MVP Mookie Betts is starting to bear fruit.

Benintendi has reached base in 17 of his past 18 games while hitting .348 with a .983 OPS. He has also reached base in 37 of 39 career games out of the leadoff spot, suggesting he could be the perfect table setter for Betts to turn his power into even more production.

Betts, meanwhile, is hitting .423 over his past seven games and has raised his average 63 points to .260. He went 2-for-4. Like Benintendi, he doubled twice.

"It's cool to see Benny, Mookie making me look good," Cora said. "That's the plan. There's going to be traffic for Mookie. There's going to be traffic for Mitch [Moreland] and so on and so on. We know we're a good offensive club. We know it. it's just a matter of keep controlling the strike zone and putting good swings on pitches in the zone."

No one is doing that better than Benintendi, who's hitting .306 with a .368 on-base percentage after opening the season 4-for-25.

"You're going to go through those times," Moreland said. "I don't think it was the leadoff spot, just the ups and downs of the season. You knew it was only a matter of time before he started feeling good, and obviously, he's doing it now. He's been that guy for us, getting on base, and getting it started for us. He's gotten off to a great start."

 

Cora believes Benintendi is capable of big things atop the order.

"I think this is only the second time he's gotten on base leading off in the first inning," he said. "Yesterday he put a good at-bat against (Tyson) Ross. He struck out. Today, he kept fouling off pitches. He was upset because he got some pitches he could hit. Just fouled it off and being able to get to first. That's what we're looking for.

"Both guys, regardless, if it's Mookie leading off or Benny leading off, they can put pressure on a daily basis. People know that with one swing right away, it can be 1-0, us, or it's men at second with no outs right away. He's doing a good job. You can see him getting on base. I think he's probably, what, .375, .380, I feel he can be a .400 on-base percentage guy. I know he can do it. just keep challenging him and tell him to set the table for this team and he's up to the challenge."

Cora took a risk messing with a good thing when he decided to move Betts out of the leadoff spot where he thrived last year, but it was the right call. Analytics have upended the long-held belief that your best hitter should bat third. It's now clear that the two-hole is that spot, which is why sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, and NL MVP Christian Yellich often hit there.

"Hitting with somebody on base is obviously a lot more fun than hitting with nobody on," Betts said. "Benny can run, too, so you hit a ball in the gap, you know he'll score from first and it'll be 1-0 or whatever the score is at that point. I've been able to do that a couple of times here lately."

The Red Sox can only hope it continues.

"Obviously you see it the last couple of nights, the more they're out there and on base, the more opportunities everybody in the lineup's going to have," Moreland said. "It's just nice when we keep adding pressure. Inning after inning, we got opportunities to score runs, and it starts with those guys."
 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.