Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been aggressive in managing his bullpen, treating each game as if it were the playoffs.
Managing in the postseason often takes an unconventional approach. We saw it last year with the Boston Red Sox aggressively making pitching substitutions and even using members of their rotation out of the bullpen for key outs between starts. Every game matters in a win-or-go-home series.
It’s the middle of August and Alex Cora is already taking a similar approach. The Red Sox are eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the loss column for the second Wild Card spot. Cora is treating every game as if it’s the playoffs because their backs are already against the wall and they can’t afford losing streaks.
We saw it Tuesday night in Cleveland. Chris Sale was cruising through the first five innings but when he ran into trouble in the sixth, Cora wasn’t afraid to pull his ace and let Matt Barnes get the final out.
He called on lefty Josh Taylor to face the switch-hitting Jose Ramirez in the following inning before Nathan Eovaldi took over. Eovaldi was supposed to start the next day but Cora scrapped that plan on the fly. He needed Eovaldi to help get them through that night’s game. The next night would have to be figured out later.
The game would end up extending into extra innings where Andrew Cashner, of all people, saved the day – literally, by recording his first career save. Cashner was acquired before the deadline to patch the back end of the rotation but failed miserably. Now he’s closing games? That’s where this team is at now – anything goes.
Boston clinched the series against the red-hot Indians with a patchwork crew of pitchers. Starter Brian Johnson was lifted with two outs in the third inning. He wasn’t pitching poorly – the jam he was in was created by a pair of errors that led to an unearned run. Didn’t matter. Marcus Walden came in to face Franmil Reyes and put him away on one pitch. It would be the only pitch Walden threw that night.
More from Red Sox News
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Why Red Sox fans should be rooting for Carlos Correa’s Mets deal to go through
The Red Sox would end up using six relievers to get through the final 6 1/3 innings. They combined to allow only three base runners without a run to secure the victory.
Quick hooks, using starters as relievers and sending in a pitcher to face only one batter. That isn’t Cora’s normal strategy but it’s reminiscent of his aggressive postseason approach. Is it sustainable over a full season? Probably not, but it’s necessary down the stretch in these desperate times.
The upcoming schedule also helps make it possible. Cora could empty his bullpen the last two nights knowing an off day would follow. Today is the first of five off days between now and the end of the month, not counting the remainder of the suspended game against the Kansas City Royals to be played on August 22. The light schedule allows Cora to get creative with his woefully thin rotation and lean heavily on his bullpen.
"“We talked about it,” Cora told reporters after Wednesday’s game, per MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “If this is the way we have to do it, we’ll do it this way. The schedule hasn’t been good to us for three-quarters of the season but now we have all these off days and we can take advantage of it.”"
If the Red Sox make it through this stretch utilizing this strategy, Cora can double-down on it in September when rosters expand, giving him a few more relievers to mix-and-match with.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. It may not be the way Cora prefers to manage his ballclub but it’s the way he has to manage them now. The Red Sox dug themselves into a deep hole by not showing the same mental fortitude that made them champions last year. If they want to return to playing baseball in October, they need to play as if the postseason has already begun.