By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The 98.5 The Sports Hub Year-End Awards are presented at the end of 2018 to recognize the New England's most successful professional athletes. Click here for all year-end awards from Boston's home for sports.
Clearly, J.D. Martinez had the biggest impact on the Boston Red Sox on the field. He delivered David Ortiz-esque numbers in the second season without Big Papi patrolling the middle of the Red Sox lineup. Martinez did a hell of a job making fans forget how much they needed that kind of a bat, helping them win their fourth World Series title since 2004 in a dominant series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But if you were to ask who made the single biggest difference on the Red Sox as an organization? In the clubhouse? For the identity of the team? Without question, it's manager Alex Cora.
After steering the Red Sox' big, expensive ship to a world championship and one of the most dominant single seasons in baseball history, Cora is an easy choice for the Sports Hub's Coach of the Year award for 2018.
Just consider the eye-popping difference in the last two Octobers. Between this year's Red Sox squad and the John Farrell-led letdowns of 2016-17? Night and day.
After two straight seasons of being shut down on offense and quickly bowing out of the playoffs with a whimper, suddenly the Red Sox were virtually unstoppable. They lost exactly one game in each of their three playoff series, barely meeting resistance from the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers along the way. These were three supremely talented teams with more postseason experience than anyone in Boston, presumed to possibly be too dangerous to overcome.
Well, the Red Sox outclassed the class of baseball in the playoffs too. And did it largely with the same roster as the prior two seasons. You can mainly thank Cora for that stunning turnaround.
Cora's plan wasn't too complicated. A more aggressive offense became a touchstone of his wildly successful first year, as was more confidence on the mound in general. Particularly from maligned lefty David Price. Cora made the Sox over into a confident bunch of competitors who maximized their talents, something John Farrell could not accomplish after 2013.
You could see the Cora Effect™ on individual players. Xander Bogaerts suddenly looked like a hitter to fear after curiously falling short of expectations on offense in recent seasons, smashing a career-best 23 home runs and 103 RBIs with an .883 OPS in just 136 games. You saw it in Price, who vanquished his narrative as a pitcher who can't get it done in the postseason by delivering dominant pitching performances throughout the ALCS and World Series.
The Red Sox' new identity showed up on the field to a thrilling degree in 2018. Pretty simple, play better and improve in October and you'll win more. Maybe hoist a trophy. But it's Cora's ripple effect through that clubhouse that turned that switch to the ON position.
For some reason, there's been debates at various corners of the internet and on our very airwaves at 98.5 about the biggest role of a manager for a baseball team. We're in an age of intensely deep troves of data and advanced analytics, which play major parts in who pitches when, who faces who, who lines up where, etc. Actual in-game strategy comes down to the manager less than it ever has.
Cora's top task as Red Sox manager, without question, was to give the Red Sox an overhaul in team makeup. Give 'em that proverbial kick in the ass. Make them a team nobody wants to face. Think anyone's thrilled about having to face these same Red Sox next year, after the rampage they just went on?
Martinez, the Sports Hub's Red Sox Player of the Year, certainly deserves a lot of credit for giving them a massive boost in offensive talent. But still, the biggest difference between the 2018 Red Sox and their immediate predecessors is that their identity more closely resembled the triumphant squads of 2004, 2007, and 2013.
The catalyst for that sea change? Cora. It's what made him arguably the most impressive rookie coach/manager in Boston sports history, and an easy choice for top honors from the Sports Hub.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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