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Alex Cora is trusting his best players instead of submitting to the numbers, and it's making all the difference

Alex Reimer
October 25, 2018 - 11:57 am

Alex Cora broke all of the analytical rules in the Red Sox’ Game 2 win over the Dodgers. Instead of submitting to the numbers, he trusted his best players. It was so damn refreshing to watch. 

David Price labored through the fourth inning, loading the bases and allowing two runs to score. In the fifth, Price was slated to face the top of the Dodgers’ lineup for –– *gasp* –– the third time, which means it should’ve been time for him to go in the era of laminated outfield positioning cards. But Cora allowed Price to begin the frame, and was rewarded with a 1-2-3 inning. The only scare was a Brian Dozier fly ball to left, which Andrew Benintendi corralled into his glove with a leaping catch. 

If that wasn’t crazy enough, Cora sent Price out for the top of the sixth, too. The left-hander threw just eight pitches, retiring Manny Machado (pop out), Chris Taylor (bunt) and Matt Kemp (groundout). It was the second straight playoff start in which Price went at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer. Price has achieved full October redemption, a feat that wouldn’t have been possible if Cora had pulled him before he could qualify for the win.

Conversely, on the other side of the field Wednesday, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts allowed his binder full of numbers to make decisions for him once again. Hyun-Jin Ryu was rolling until two outs in the fifth inning, when he allowed a bloop single from Christian Vazquez to right and a seeing-eye grounder from Mookie Betts up the middle. Then Andrew Benintendi walked to load the bases, winning an intense eight-pitch battle. 

Anybody watching the game could see Ryu was still throwing the ball well. Benintendi fouled off two nasty curveballs prior to taking his well-earned walk. But the analytics say every starting pitcher should be pulled at the first sign of trouble, especially if they start to flounder while facing the lineup for –– say it together now –– the third time

So Roberts pulled Ryu for right-hander Ryan Madson. The veteran journeyman wound up walking Steve Pearce on five pitches. Tie game. Then J.D. Martinez batted a single into right field, scoring two more. 

Price shut down the Dodgers in the sixth, and the Red Sox’ bullpen threw three additional scoreless frames. Game over.  

This isn’t to say Cora is ignorant of the numbers. He seemingly makes reasoned decisions, and isn’t afraid to be unorthodox. On Wednesday, the Red Sox once again deployed Nathan Eovaldi for the eighth inning, continuing their strategy of sending out the available starting pitcher to bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel. 

Managers should consult every statistic and datapoint they can find. The information is available, so it would be reckless to leave it all sitting in your desk drawer –– a la Grady Little. But at some point, managers must trust their best guys. Case in point: through the first two games of the series, Roberts has sat NLCS MVP Cody Bellinger, 35-home run hitter Max Muncy and Joc Pederson. The Dodgers have scored just six runs in their two losses, while leaving 65 home runs and 211 RBI on their bench, because they’ve faced two left-handed starters. That’s probably not a coincidence.

Throughout the postseason, Red Sox players have gushed over how much Cora believes in them. That was evident in Game 5 of the ALCS, when Cora brought in Kimbrel for the save, despite his disastrous outing the previous night. Kimbrel rewarded Cora’s faith with a scoreless inning, and has been untouchable so far in the World Series. 

If Kimbrel played for the Dodgers, he probably wouldn’t have been allowed to finish Game 4 of the ALCS, or been summoned for Game 5. Price almost certainly wouldn’t have been permitted to face the top of the Dodgers lineup for a third time Wednesday night.

The Red Sox’ fortunes could be very different if Cora ceded total control to the mathematicians in a heated box.