By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Halfway through the first full month of the season, the Red Sox are high atop the American League East, posting a 13-2 record while beating up on largely the lesser lights in what has become a greatly diminished division over the past several years. After having his bullpen impode in the eighth inning in what looked to be an Opening Day relatively easy win over the Rays in Tampa on March 29th, Alex Cora’s club has been locked into overdrive ever since.
The added element of a renewed rivalry with the New York Yankees – who have struggled to find their stride so far this young season, but would be a mistake to overlook – has added yet another missing element from what is largely the same team that exited the playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive October some six months ago.
And while it is easy to point to the schedule – the combined record of the teams the Sox have played thus far is a wretched 19-41 – as the reason the results have been as remarkable as they have been thus far in this short campaign, there is obviously something different about this suddenly intriguing Cora run club.
Is it the addition of slugger J.D. Martinez, who struggled out of the gate in his first few games but is looking every bit the bat that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski set out to find following last years power outage at Fenway Park? Maybe, but it is unlikely as simple as that.
There is a freshness now where there seemed to be lifelessness from the largely unchanged group that seemed gloomy a year ago, even though they were on their way to a franchise first, second consecutive division title under then manager John Farrell. There is an aggressiveness that was more times than not missing under the man labeled “Manager John” by a then petulant David Price, who had a big part in shaping fans negative feelings about the club last season.
There seems to be a looseness, a swagger, that was nowhere to be found a year ago. Instead of looking uptight on most occasions, Cora’s club seems to operate with an air of easiness that has not been seen since prior to 2011, when Terry Francona saw his collection of self-centered and entitled “superstars” rebel against him down the stretch and especially in September.
Could it be that the past couple of years under Farrell, the newly emerging core of the team – specifically Xander Bogearts and Mookie Betts – felt a disconnect under their somewhat old-school manager who spoke his own language, one that was not understood by these budding superstar?
As the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote last October when Farrell was dismissed by Dombrowski regarding what the Sox big boss would be looking for from his next skipper, it seems evident that the divide between the kids and the bench boss was a major factor going forward.
“We have a young core of players that are outstanding young talents,’’ said Dombrowski. “I think they have a chance to be championship-type players. They’re still in their growth stage. It’s a great foundation for a baseball club.
“We do have some veterans, of course, in that mix, too. But I think it’s going to be very important for whomever it is to be able to relate to those youngsters, and not only relate to them, but help them get better as players.”
Of course, it a bit absurd to read to deep into anything after only 15 games in the middle of April, but there is a sniff test that can be taken regarding teams, even if only a fraction of the schedule has been played. The upcoming three-game series versus the similarly hot out of the gate Angels in Anaheim – who seem to be among the only handful of teams that look to be any good in the American League – should shine some light on just how good Cora’s club really is.
Same can be said for the three contests the Sox will have against the second-place Blue Jays in Toronto a week from now. That being said – as was expected entering the season – Dombrowski has given his rookie manager a roster that is built for the postseason. And the early returns show – in a franchise record way – that the entire roster seems to be buying into what their new skipper has to say.
If that continues, this summer could be one to remember for the baseball fans of Boston. That’s assuming that the weather actually turns at some point.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.