Generally speaking, it’s hard to complain about the start of Alex Cora’s tenure as the Red Sox manager. Of course, people will try — hell, most of this post is going to be complaints about decisions being made by Cora — but it’s hard to imagine things going much better to start this season than what’s happened. The Red Sox currently have the best record in all of baseball, which seems pretty good! They’ve also gotten some big starts from a couple of key pieces like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, at least some of which can be attributed to the new coaching staff. The bullpen hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve patched together a mostly solid year without any big names beyond Craig Kimbrel. Cora has also exhibited impressive accountability and just generally has developed a better rapport with the media compared to the last coaching group. That last part isn’t hugely importantly, but it matters at least a little bit. All things considered, I think it’s fair to say we should be mostly happy with the way things have started under Cora.
So, we got that out of the way, yeah? Now, we can get into some of the flaws, because they do exist. For all of the success, things still aren’t perfect. We can’t ever really expect perfection, of course, but it doesn’t mean that’s what we (or, more accurately, the Red Sox) should be pushing for. For a good chunk of this early part of the year, pinch hitting and Cora’s reluctancy to use them were an issue. He has seemingly been more willing to use them in the obvious spots of late, though, so we’re already seeing growth from the first-year manager. Right now, however, the biggest issue seems to be an unwillingness to shake things up in the lineup. Call it stubbornness or being slow to react or however you want to phrase it, some lineup decisions are getting frustrating.
There are a few different spots in the lineup that have been getting more and more attention of late, but we’ll start with Hanley Ramirez’. As we talked about not too long ago, the first baseman is scuffling of late. He’s all the way down to a league-average batting line after his torrid start to the season and he’s continuing to hit too many balls on the ground. Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland has remained hot when he’s gotten into games, but he’s still sitting in favor of Ramirez too often. Even if you want to argue that Ramirez has the higher ceiling and it would benefit the team to get him going at the expense of Moreland — I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but I think it’s an argument that one could make in good faith, at least — Ramirez still shouldn’t be hitting third anymore. This just seems like an example of Cora not wanting to shake things up quite yet, but almost one-third of the way through the season is a point at which you can start shaking things up at least a little bit.
The Ramirez thing is frustrating, but I can at least sort of see how one could be slower to react there given his hot start to the season. The Eduardo Núñez situation is much different in that the infielder has never really had a positive portion of his season. I’m one of the biggest Núñez fans out there, but he clearly is much better suited for third base — he’s not even that great at the hot corner but he’s straight-up awful at second base — with the glove. He’s also not hitting the ball at all. Brock Holt, meanwhile, has turned things around since his slow start and while he’s not winning any Gold Gloves either he can cover more ground in the middle infield. It’s been shocking that Holt hasn’t gotten more time with tough righties on the mound for opponents. Granted, this one will soon sort itself out with the return of Dustin Pedroia, but it’s still been strange to watch.
Then, there are perhaps the two most-discussed Red Sox players of 2018 to this point: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Blake Swihart. I think I would argue that Cora has been handling both of these situations well, but they’ve certainly turned some heads. With Bradley, the center fielder was struggling to the point that many thought we’d see the outfielder in Triple-A soon, whether it be by option or injury. Cora has stuck with his guy, though, giving him some extended rest to figure things out but keeping him around the coaching staff. It’s too early to say that has worked, but Bradley has undeniably looked better in his last few games.
The Swihart situation is a different beast and I think we’re at the point where no matter what side you’re on you’re already so dug in that you’re not going to change your mind. Still, it’s been weird that Cora hasn’t been able to find time for the young catcher/infielder/outfielder/whatever the hell he is, particularly given his desire to rest his players as often as possible. To be fair to Cora, I’m not sure this is as much on him as some of the other stuff discussed here, as I think it’s clear that the organization has been more down on Swihart than the general public since before Cora joined the team. Voices from above are at least contributors to Swihart’s lack of time.
Like I said, Cora’s time in Boston overall has been an undeniable success. The manager has gotten his team to the best record in baseball and he deserves credit here. That said, some of his lineup decisions are frustrating. I can give him a pass for the Swihart situation, and he’s looking smart for the way he’s handling the Bradley situation. It’s also worth noting that he seems to be riding Sandy León more, so he is capable of riding the hot hand. Ultimately, between the catcher situation and the pinch hitting, we’ve seen that Cora is capable of making adjustments. He is a first-year manager after all, and there are going to be growing pains. The amount of playing time doled out at first and second base almost certainly isn’t as big a deal as many of us are making it out to be, but we need something to complain about, right?