Red Sox fans and the media that cover them are a difficult bunch to keep happy. The Sox came home to Boston Thursday from 50 days in Florida, including all of Spring Training and six regular season games against the Rays and the Marlins, two teams not exactly the cream of the crop in either the American or National League. They won five of the six games and were in first place, one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and a game and a half ahead of the New York Yankees.
Alex Cora had started out with a better record, five wins and one loss, after his first six games as Manager of the Sox than the Red Sox had had in any of the three seasons they won the World Series in this century. In 2013, under John Farrell, their future World Champions were 4-2 after six games, in 2007, under Terry Francona, ( some Red Sox fans would genuflect at the mention of his name ), they won three and lost three and were in second place, one game behind the Blue Jays, and in 2004, the year they broke The Curse, Francona’s boys were three and three, tied for first with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.
The 5-1 record after six games was the best start the Sox had had since 2006 which was the only other year in this century when they were also as good as 5-1. That year, with Francona at the helm in his third year, the Sox finished in third place with an 86-76 final record. What is it they say as a disclaimer in financial management advertising, past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Let’s hope that this team fares better in the long haul than that team.
Cora’s team started the season with three of their top six starting pitchers, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez on the disabled list and, in those first six games, with young Hector Velasquez and Brian Johnson in the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation, the starters had given up just four runs in 35 innings for a 1.03 earned run average.
The offense had been weak to say the least. They were 14th in all of baseball in batting average, .240, 17th in runs scored, 21 (3.5 per game), 16th in slugging percentage, .373, and had just four home runs, 21st, and one of those homers was Nunez’ pop fly that was misplayed from a single to an inside the park homer.
Aside from the first game where Joe Kelly was, by his own admission, ‘pathetic’ and Carson Smith no better, the bull pen had been magnificent. Cora is intent on not having the kind of melt down at the end of the season that the Sox have seen the last two years and has instituted a policy of resting position players frequently to save them for the long haul. He has also started his pitchers, particularly Sale and his other starters, off slowly for the same reason.
In the first six games, Betts, Benintendi, Devers, Ramirez, Bradley and Martinez have all been given days off. I am sure that part of the reason for him taking this position is the fact that he has more than adequate numbers of quality players everywhere and resting them allows him to give more people playing time, a nice solution to a wonderful problem to have.
Whether this will pay off on the long run, only time will tell but he has a plan and is sticking to it. His team was 5-1 and had come within a whisker of being 6-0 when it came home.
Two old adages come to mind when you think about this first road trip of the year. The first is ‘ A 1-0 win counts the same as a 14-0 win.’ In the five they won there were three one run games and two two run games, one of them a 13 inning game, while only scoring 17 runs. The other adage is ‘ Pitching is the name of the game. ‘ They have plenty of pitching, with three more quality starters set to come off the disabled list soon.
Branson Carusille in Fansided, on line, asked Wednesday morning ‘ Should Cora be sitting players so early in the season, especially when the lineup hasn’t produced? ‘ The media criticized Cora for not using Craig Kimbrel in the first game when they blew a 4-0 lead and Cora responded ‘ For what we are trying to accomplish here we need him for the long run not just for one out on Opening Day.’
Whether you agree with his plan or not, you can’t refute the evidence that he used to develop his plan. The Sox won 93 games in each of the last two years, won the American League East and then were knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs.
The one thing Alex Cora has learned early on is that Red Sox fans, who went without a World Series win for 86 years and have been spoiled by three in the past fourteen years, are not going to be happy without a World Series win. The other thing that he is aware of is that this team knows they have the horses to at least go deep into the Playoffs and he and his players seem happy with his plan to get them there.
As Scott Lausen of ESPN said after the disappointing loss in Game 1 ‘There will be other difficult days, probably more than Cora wants, but that’s life as the Manager of the Red Sox.’
What Alex Cora has to keep in mind is that, if he motivates his players to produce at the level they are capable of producing, those fickle Red Sox fans and their media will not care if it’s pitching or hitting that wins the last game of the World Series or whether they won 2-1 or 16-0. In Boston, as in many big league cities, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose. Welcome back to Boston, Alex.