(Photo Credit: WEEI)
By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
Much was talked about in regards to the “arms race” the Red Sox were having with the Yankees over the winter, or at least from the media hype that was generated. The latter team came from within one game of the World Series, and then added the reigning NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. Boston’s main acquisition was J.D. Martinez, with some “under the radar” signings of Eduardo Nunez & Mitch Moreland.
As the 2018 Major League Baseball season wraps up it’s fourth week, some teams are in panic mode, some have a multitude of concerns, and some are pleasantly surprised. Red Sox fans are elated with the 16-2 start, the best in franchise history. Most teams, even the those that are performing well are getting an idea of what type of trades and acquisitions will need to be made to improve themselves as season drags on, and the trade deadline approaches. The Red Sox, however, appear to need absolutely nothing.
They are currently ranked second in all of MLB for pitching with a 2.63 ERA. They also are ranked number one in the offensive catagories of: Runs, Hits, Doubles, RBI’s, Batting Average, OBP, OPS, and slugging percentage. Basically every category except for home runs, of which they are sixth.
With the benefit of hindsight, a case can be made that the Red Sox did not need to sign J.D. Martinez, who is currently hitting .338 with four home runs and 15 RBI’s. Four other regular starting players are hitting at or above .300. Mookie Betts is looking not only like an MVP candidate, but the likely front runner. Not to mention the team overall is regularly blasting home runs, including 11 in the previous series against the Los Angeles Angels alone.
It would be fair to point out thus far that Eduardo Nunez was an equally important signing due to the fact the Boston desperately needed depth for their middle infield. It was known all along that Dustin Pedroia could miss up to a few months. It was impossible to know that Xander Bogaerts would go on the D.L. due to a chipped talus bone in his ankle. With Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin filling in at short stop, having Nunez at second base keeps our infield formidable.
Unequivocally, the most critical move Boston made after the conclusion of the 2017 was firing John Farrell, and the hiring of Alex Cora. To be completely honest, my primary choice of all the known Red Sox candidates was Ron Gardenhire. The trend that “managers must be younger” as we are seeing across the league never really resonated with me. Before A.J. Hinch led the Astros to the World Series title last year, it was primarily veteran managers leading those journeys. Joe Maddon, Ned Yost, Bruce Bochy in recent years to name a few. Nonetheless, Alex Cora was ultimately the chosen one.
The starkest difference between the current and former Red Sox skippers is that Alex Cora heavily values mutual trust between his players. Farrell instead relied heavily on analytics, which seemed to frequently backfire. Joe Kelly and Carson Smith immediately felt the wrath of the Fenway Faithful when they scuffled out of the gates. Both combined for a six run eight inning in the season opener down in the Trop. “Manager John” likely would have chosen to keep them out of high leverage situations for the foreseeable future, but Alex Cora took the exact opposite approach. He immediately trotted them back out during the preceding games. Smith had one more hiccup in a following game, but both he and Kelly have since settled down nicely in recent outings. Not to mention the fact Kelly further endeared himself against the Yankees during a benches clearing brawl with Tyler Austin.
Gone are the awkward platoons. Andrew Benintendi will no longer be benched regularly against lefties. Young prospects won’t likely be squandered as Travis Shaw tragically was. Starting pitchers won’t likely be involved in shouting matches with the manager upon being removed from games. Nor will they be chasing meaningless records (300 strikeouts) in the grand scheme of things.
Communication with players and media has been far more transparent, and far less confusing or open to interpretation. Each player on the team knows their role, and what their manager’s intentions are in utilizing them. Cora guaranteed that every player on this 2018 Boston roster would have fun. Their history 16-2 record reflects that.
Farrell was perhaps fired two and a half years too late. It’s hard to fathom half of Bogaerts, Betts, and Bradley’s contracts among others were wasted on their former manager’s tenure. The common denominator to all of this success in 2018 is positively Alex Cora. Better late than never.
ICYMI: EPISODE 37 OF THE AVIDBOSTON PODCAST!! SOX CRUSH THE ANGELS!!! JD AND MOOKIE ARE ON FIRE!!!! WILL THE YANKEES BOUNCE BACK?!?
Also available on iTunes!