Hackett: So far, Alex Cora's message is missing the mark

Jim Hackett
April 18, 2019 - 6:27 am

Last week in this very space I wrote that though it may not be time to worry, concerns surrounding the Red Sox were very real. The column was merited at the time. Fast forward just one week and I’ll quote the great Jedi Master Yoda from the Empire Strikes Back: "Now, matters are worse."

It is now most certainly time to worry about the 2019 Boston Red Sox, yet the manager doesn’t seem overly concerned. 

In what was an otherwise great sports night in Boston Wednesday, the Red Sox found a new way to blow it. Literally starving for a solid performance from a starting pitcher, the Sox turned to Nathan Eovaldi and he delivered as he has several times during his brief but prolific tenure with the team. The Red Sox needed that great start and upon finally getting a lead to protect, at long last they lost in the way that so many thought could be the teams’ biggest vulnerability, that being turning over leads to the bullpen. 

Bullpen. Blowpen. Bull’s eye. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning took to the golf course a month or two earlier than most projected and when that opportunity knocked last night, the Bruins kicked the door down. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were done in by the likes of Brett Gardner. The Celtics took care of business on their home court versus an inferior Pacers opponent, while the Red Sox did the opposite with their supposedly inferior opponent’s just days earlier. In their last two home series, the defending World Series champions could merely salvage a split against the lowly Blue Jays and even more lowly Baltimore Orioles. As Bob Dylan famously crooned, "Times they are a changing" yet I haven’t heard manager Alex Cora change his tune once. Not even a note. 

My question is simply this: Where’s the urgency? 

I like Cora a lot and I’ve written that several times and in several different ways in this space, this article comes to mind. (Click here.) I’ve got to say, I think he’s played this season entirely wrong so far and that theme began before spring training even started. Urgency to win right now is clearly missing as is the need to define this specific 2019 Red Sox team. After every loss in some form, their previous accomplishments from the year prior and references to the talent they so obviously have, are cited again and again and again. It’s clear to me that this team has not moved on from last October and that’s the fault of the manager.

When Cora was interviewed by Ordway, Merloni and Fauria during the offseason he famously said that he didn’t want to move on from 2018, he wanted to continue that feeling. Admirable and idealistic, but proving not to be advisable. Bill Belichick doesn’t speak much but when he does it’s wise to listen. He has built a culture where each season is its own. Each team is its own. Each game is its own and each opponent is its own. The result have been unrivaled and unparalleled successes. Cora is smart, likable and a winner in his own right, that’s not debatable, but he would be well served to listen to the advice of someone like Belichick whose track record is best in class, no matter the class. As far as 2018 is concerned, class is dismissed and if Cora doesn’t embrace that and get these ballplayers of his to understand that then the 2019 season will end before it begins. 

The manager sets the tone. The good news is that to a man, the Red Sox players are echoing the preaching and words of the manager. That shows strong leadership by Cora and buy-in from his troops.  I very much appreciate that. However, the message they are following so far this year is the wrong one. After each loss, whether from Chris Sale after any of his four underwhelming losses, or from Cora himself any given night, I keep hearing references to last year. The eternal crutch of 2019 is quite obviously 2018. Show me a loss and I’ll quote you a reference to 2018. Brasier did it in the postgame interviews last night. 

Year’s back I had a conversation with a very accomplished entrepreneur and made a reference to something I must have thought was worth mentioning from my past. After I finally shut up, the man simply said, "There’s no such thing as the past." I never forgot it.

It’s time for this team to let go of the past and get onto the present. Maybe if they add a splash of urgency to the mix too then things may change. Until that happens though, nothing likely will. 

Two more points ...

Before you laugh know this, Red Sox fans had high expectations heading into the 2012 season too. Now that was a train wreck of a completely different sort, believe me, I get it. But the fact remains in early April of that pathetic season informed people had high hopes too. The point is, a season can go off the rails quickly and this train is beginning to shake violently. 

Lastly, this 2019 Red Sox team is missing opportunities to win games all over the field. Starting pitchers putting the team in early holes. Hitters leaving runners on base. Hitters getting themselves in unfavorable counts. Bad decisions on the base paths and untimely defensive lapses in both the infield and outfield. In order to win, you need to make the winning plays when they are there and in nearly 70 percent of the games thus far the Red Sox have failed to do so in too many of those available moments. That’s purely a lack of focus for such a talented team. Maybe if Cora had the team focused on what they need to do in 2019 instead of how well they did in 2018, they wouldn’t be 6-13. 

I know one team that is focused right now and that’s the American League East Division-leading Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are a tough out when things are going well and right now things are not going well. The Red Sox have failed to hit the reset or restart button in any series this year and unless they can put the past behind them quickly and permanently I don’t expect that will change anytime soon. Sadly, I’m forecasting a sweep in Tampa and not the good kind.  

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