USA Today Sports

Red Sox 4, Marlins 2: In search of an identity

Rob Bradford
April 04, 2018 - 1:10 am

MIAMI -- We knew Alex Cora the player. We knew Alex Cora the spring training manager. But we didn't know Alex Cora the manager until the last six games.

What we also didn't know was what Cora's team might look (and feel) like.

Now we have a much better idea.

The Red Sox are hitting their home opener with the organization's best start since 2006, improving to 5-1 after a 4-2, 13-inning win over Miami at Marlins Park Tuesday night. That is about as good as Cora's club could hope for, even if the wins came against two teams some might consider closer to the International League than American or National League. (For a complete recap, click here.)

But the real takeaway was what we can now make of this collection of Red Sox. Cora said himself after the latest win, this is a team that has plenty of room for improvement. At the same time, it is fairly obvious there are plenty of signs to suggest they can compete with the likes of the Yankees while eclipsing the 93 wins of the past two seasons.

What is most interesting about the vibe emanating from the Red Sox as they jetted home late Tuesday night was what it all meant. This stretch of games should be remembered as more of a foundation than finished product. That was evident throughout Cora weaving his way through his first two series as a big league manager.

Taking starters out early. Going right back to relievers after bad outings. Choosing to not warm up relievers during dicey times, erring on the side of unnecessary up-downs. Building up the confidence of Hanley Ramirez. Making it clear to all corners of the starting nine that some sort of rest was coming their way.

And all along the way he was making no apologies for any of it.

The feeling you get walking through the clubhouse is that this is a much more confident bunch than a year ago. There is no trace of a longing for David Ortiz. The likes of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts aren't walking on the eggshells of years past. And when Cora walks through the clubhouse there isn't a hint of anxiety.

While the starting rotation has been historically good in not giving up more than a single run in any of its first six starts, their most impressive feat has been setting the tone for themselves. Cora has been asked multiple times if the group's success has been a surprise and his consistent answer has been, "No, it's what we expected."

Confident Cora clearly hasn't been a bad thing. Realistic Cora has also been important.

These Red Sox are still getting thrown out on the bases at key times all over the place. "It’s in their DNA," the manager said after getting two more men thrown out at home, Tuesday night. "It is. It’s hard. I don’t want to take away their aggressiveness. But we have to get better and they know it."

They are still searching a bit when it comes to legitimate second-in-line relievers after Matt Barnes suffered his first hiccup, sending the series finale to extra innings by allowing an 11th-inning run. 

The Red Sox are still trying to find a consistent offensive groove, residing in the middle of the pack in almost every statistic, including the much-talked-about percentage of times the first pitch has been offered at. 

And, oh my goodness, we almost forgot: J.D. Martinez still doesn't have a home run. (The guess is that such a feat isn't far away, much like a game in which Giancarlo Stanton doesn't strike out five times.)

This was all just the initial introduction. So far, overall it's been a positive first impression.