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Boston Red Sox

In the end, for all intents and purposes, Alex Cora will be judged by the W and the L, as if he were buying a pair of pants. Managers are about the fit, after all, which comes down to being the right guy in the right place at the right time.

For example: in 2013, after the turbulent reign of poorly-chosen Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox needed something familiar, something stable. John Farrell was the right choice. But by 2017 the Red Sox were younger and different, and Farrell couldn’t save his job even with a 93-win regular season.

Is Cora the right guy for this team? Time will tell. But in the first week of the 2018 season, we are learning about Cora’s tendencies as surely as he is learning about himself, and rest assured that the latter is happening whether he wants to admit it or not.

For example:

He’s still trying to learn his bullpen. And we’re not even talking about the eighth madness that has seen Joe Kelly, Carson Smith and Matt Barnes all fall flat on their faces. But what are the roles beyond that?

This brings us to Bobby Poyner.

On Opening Day, Cora got Poyner during the eighth-inning meltdown in Tampa, but refused to bring him into the game. After the loss, he suggested he did not want Poyner in a high-leverage situation. Two days later, he brought the left-hander Poyner to face lefty Kevin Kiermayer (representing the tying run) in a 3-1 game. Poyner got the out in his major league debut beaming with confidence.

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Bobby Poyner (66) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the eleventh inning of the home opener at Fenway Park. The Red Sox defeated Tampa Bay 3-2. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

So what did Cora do? He inexplicably sent Poyner back out for the next inning, to face the right-handed Carlos Gomez. (Tampa had right-left-right scheduled to start the inning.) On his first pitch, Poyner surrendered a home run. Even Red Sox broadcasters Dave O’Brien and Jerry Remy admitted they were surprised Poyner was still in the game.

Yesterday, he took his best hitter out of a tie game. With the game tied 2-2 in the 11th, J.D. Martinez singled to center. Cora then replaced him with pinch-runner Blake Swihart – hardly a burner – who advanced to second on a passed ball with two out. Swihart ended up dying there.


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Look, pinch-running substitutions can be a matter of preference. But this was dumb. During spring training, Cora compared Martinez to Manny Ramirez. At home, especially, pinch-running for your best hitter makes sense when you’re behind on the scoreboard, but removing him prematurely can be costly. And this almost hurt Cora badly in the 12th, with Swihart in the on-deck circle when Hanley Ramirez won the game.

Here’s the point: had Andrew Benintendi not drawn a key walk after falling behind 0-2, the Rays would have walked Hanley Ramirez and pitched to Swihart instead of Martinez. Cora got lucky there.

He’s been true to his word on the starting pitchers. Last season, Red Sox starters led all rotations in the American League in innings. By the playoffs, they were all shot. Cora came into camp saying that the Sox were going to protect their starters – particularly Chris Sale and David Price, which has only put more strain and emphasis on his bullpen management.

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price (24) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the first inning of the home opener at Fenway Park. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Nonetheless, he’s doing the right thing. The Red Sox need their starters pitching their best in September and October. The rotation workload has been far more reasonable so far this season. David Price has been the only starter to pitch into the seventh inning – he’s done it twice – but he’s only throw 91 pitches each time.

He’s contributed to the eighth-inning issues, but he’s not the source of them. Let’s go back to Opening Day. Cora’s first choice in the eighth inning was Joe Kelly, who clearly didn’t have command of his pitches. He walked three. Cora was late getting him out of the game and – with Poyner waiting in the pen – ended up having Carson Smith face two left-handed batters, including Denard Span, who ended up hitting a decisive three-run triple.

Of course, in a tie game yesterday, he brought Smith in to start the eighth and the reliever promptly issued a walk and two-run homer. The bottom line is this: the Red Sox had eighth-inning issues last year, which is why they traded for Addison Reed, who subsequently departed via free agency. Kelly, Smith and Matt Barnes all feel like middle relievers, and ultimately Cora inherited a problem that Dave Dombrowski did not fix during the winter.

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Carson Smith (39) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth inning of the home opener at Fenway Park. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Could Tyler Thornburg be the solution? Maybe. In the interim, Cora doesn’t seem to have any great options.

The baserunning still leaves something to be desired, and that is on the manager. Yes, the Red Sox were a bad baserunning team last year and still have essentially the same roster. But the baserunning has actually gotten worse. Last season, the Red Sox ran into a major league-leading 81 outs on the bases, an average of .5 per game. This year, they’ve run into seven outs in seven games. That’s horrendous.

Red Sox owner John Henry talked about the staff changes in spring training, mostly with regard to the hitting coach. But both first base coach Tom Goodwin and third base coach Carlos Febles were supposed to help the baserunning in 2018 – and both have made it worse. Cora has said the Red Sox want to be aggressive andsmart, but thus far they’ve been aggressive and dumb.

To his credit, the manager has acknowledged this – albeit in different terms. But the bottom line is that the Red Sox have too many good athletes to run into as many outs as they do.

— By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

You can hear Mazz weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program, and from 6-7 p.m. on The Baseball Reporters. And you can get a closer look every Tuesday and Friday with the Behind The Seams blog. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.