Alex Cora returned to a Boston Red Sox team this season without Mookie Betts, but even without that generational star at the top of his lineup, the manager sees parallels with the 2018 team that led to a World Series title.
Like that 2018 team, these Red Sox will need to lean on their entire roster to win.
“That’s something that I don’t agree with you guys when you talk about 2018, because we had to maneuver at first base, at second base, at third base and behind the plate,” Cora said. “We had the same situation. Yes, of course, you had one of the best players in the majors and one of the best hitters in the majors, but on top of that, we had to mix and match. I don’t think that’s much different. “.
Anyway, many things Yes They’ve changed since that team that won the championship. Cora and the Red Sox were divorced for a year while serving his suspension for his role in the Houston Astros stealing scandal. After missing the playoffs in 2019, Boston traded Betts to Los Angeles in 2020, where he has become one of the faces of baseball for the Dodgers, who are the reigning World Series champions. The only other starters from that Boston champion core are designated hitter JD Martinez, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. Andrew Benintendi now plays for the Kansas City Royals and 2018 SCLA MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. patrols the outfield for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Betts trade still hurts many Red Sox fans, who were hoping Boston could make a deal to stay with the hometown superstar. Instead, the team not only traded Betts, but moved the remaining three years and $ 96 million from left-hander David Price’s contract into the same deal, in order to create financial flexibility going forward. But even though it’s only late April, Boston is now at the top of the AL East, surprising baseball fans and observers alike with a 14-9 record, three games ahead of the Tampa. Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.
Another difference between the Red Sox of 2021 and the team of 2018: Chief Sports Operations Officer Chaim Bloom. Bloom’s long-term vision is to build an organization similar to the Dodgers on the East Coast, one that relies on depth and versatility, while building the financial wherewithal to cause an occasional stir.
Emblematic of that, Bloom & Co. signed one of Los Angeles’ own players Enrique Hernández, in February. Boston headquarters identified Hernandez as a priority free agency target after the team’s last place in 2020, a player who represented the archetype of the team’s roster-building strategy due to his ability to play multiple positions. While hitting .250 / .295 / .432 as leadoff, Hernandez has provided above-average defense in center field, second base and shortstop.
The Red Sox, relying on such versatility, have thus far thrived on contributions from unexpected sources. Infielder Christian Arroyo, a 2013 Giants first-round pick who served as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay to San Francisco, continues to play in the lineup himself at second base, hitting. 296 / .345 / .426 in 17 games after starting the season with numbers of .219 / .283 / .360 in 85 games. Additionally, reliever Garrett Whitlock, a Rule 5 draft pick from the New York Yankees whom the front office sees as a potential starter, has been a revelation from the bullpen thus far, allowing no runs in 11⅓ innings in five. games, striking out 14.
Building the team’s roster around Swiss Army Knife players like Hernández and Marwin González, who have played in every position this young season except center field and catching, allows Cora to revolve her lineup around the team’s matchups. and his best hitters.
“Christian Arroyo has helped us not to move certain guys too much. I think, at this point, you can see that Enrique is playing more in center field than we probably anticipated, but because of the way Christian is playing, the way Marwin is playing, it helps us, “Cora said. “We have our defensive numbers. We think on a daily basis, defensively, we’re pretty solid regardless of who’s playing and at the same time we’re trying to maximize our offense and try to keep our balance, dividing our lefties, using Marwin as a hitter. Ambidextrous depending on who we’re up against, what we have in the bullpen, and where to put him in the lineup. “
Martinez acknowledges that it will be difficult for this iteration of the Red Sox to keep up with the 2018 World Series champions, but he is confident in this group’s ability to be a dynamic offense.
“That 2018 team was a special team. It’s a tough team to compete against,” Martinez said. “In ’18, I measured things to see if we could have won the game. Did we have that opportunity? Did that opportunity come? … In every game this season, we’ve always had a chance when we’ve won or lost, to have that hit, that game-changing play. Last year, I feel like we didn’t have that. “
If Boston hopes to make a run in the playoffs, it will need continued performance from the top of its order, with Martinez once again performing as one of the best hitters in the sport after a lackluster 2020. Martinez is hitting .370 / .446 / .753 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 21 games. The lineup continues to be supported by Bogaerts’ offensive trio, outfielder Alex Verdugo, who has a 133 OPS + since the Betts trade, and Devers.
“I think now we also have a very good offense. We had one of the best hitters in Mookie here in ’18, but we have other key players like [Verdugo] and Kike coming in. “Martinez said.” If Christian Arroyo keeps hitting like he has done so far, it’s a huge advantage and it can really impact this team. Bogie and Devers are Bogie and Devers. They’re going to hit. “
Those in the front office acknowledge that the team will need better performances from the bottom of the lineup, with hitters like first baseman Bobby Dalbec and outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero struggling to generate a lot of production. For now, the depth of the squad is making up for his lack of offensive output.
“We like matchups, but with Christian right now, it’s not like he’s lucky getting hits, he’s doing good at-bats, so we can face him at second knowing we’re going to be solid there and we can keep him going. Enrique in center field and then move Marwin so Xander has a day off or Raffy has a day off or Bobby has a day off, “Cora said. “It’s funny because when you talk about Marwin, he’s the guy who gives everyone a day off, but he’s still an everyday gamer. We just move him.”
With the Yankees struggling from the start and Tampa Bay’s weakened pitching rotation following the trade of Blake Snell and the departure of Charlie Morton, Boston sees an opportunity to make a good run for a playoff spot this season.
Ace Chris Sale continues to make progress in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, creeping closer to pulling off a mound after an onset of a stiff neck and a fight with COVID-19 delayed his progress. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodríguez has looked strong in the early part of the season, going 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in four starts. Much of the success of the season will hinge on the rotation, with the spotlight on Nick Pivetta and Garrett Richards. While Pivetta has been solid, posting a 2.93 ERA in six games since joining Boston through a trade last August, Richards has struggled, posting a 6.48 ERA in four starts so far in 2021.
Yet for the first part of the season at least, Cora said his main problem is having too many options to fit into the day’s lineup.
“That’s the biggest challenge, when to disconnect someone or when to connect someone, but I think it’s very similar to what we did in 2018,” Cora said. “Our lead hitter back then was Mookie Betts and people see it that way, but on top of that, the rest of the guys were platoon guys that we tried to maximize their abilities.”
Yes, Betts is gone, but Boston hopes the depth of its roster can reignite that magic of the 2018 playoffs.