Everything will be harder for Alex Cora this year. And his season may be harder to evaluate, too.
Even if the Sox have a lesser year in 2019 than they did in 2018, Cora may actually do more as manager.
In an encore to a 108-win season, Cora may have to do more to win, say, 97 games. But few may realize it, because most people look at managing as a bottom-line evaluation: success is how many games you won, rather than an assessment of how many games you won in a given circumstance.
So much went right for Cora in ’18. Naturally, plenty of the Sox’ success was owed to the first-year skipper’s touch and the relationships he fostered. No, he did not hit all of J.D. Martinez’s home runs — but he did create an environment for his players to flourish.
Nonetheless, Cora & Co. stare now at a title-defense season that will bring greater difficulty. That’s not a judgment on them as much as the scenario and the sport.
If the ’18 team represented the greatest in Sox history, the chances of a similar follow-up are slim — even with a group that’s largely unaltered.
“One thing about this group, and that’s a cool thing, throughout the offseason they’re staying locked in,” Cora said. “It’s hard to believe. Sometimes I wonder, I sit down at home and think, ‘It’s not possible.’ We text and we call and we talk about next year. Yeah, we’re celebrating and we’re enjoying the whole thing, but it looks like they turned the page a month ago.”
For his part, Cora’s signature confidence hasn’t wavered, nor would one expect it to. He has a cockiness, really, and an enjoyable one for fans considering results have followed at every turn in his short time as manager.
“If you thought last year was special, wait ’til this year,” Cora proclaimed to a packed room at the 2019 Boston Baseball Writers Dinner.
A winning attitude is fun. A bold personality at the helm makes the Sox more entertaining - a flavorful accompaniment to the entree of winning.
But coming off a World Series, Cora’s challenge in a market that always demands a winner is probably even greater.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch just lived that experience in a smaller market last year in Houston, after winning the ’17 World Series (with Cora as his bench coach).
Hinch’s Astros won more games in the ’18 regular season than they did in ’17, and the job for Hinch evolved with a team full of players receiving newfound attention and expectations.
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The Astros set a franchise record for wins in 2018, in fact. But that didn’t exactly grab the world’s attention once the Astros were eliminated in the playoffs.
“I was proud of the guys in the spring,” Hinch said during the ’18 playoffs. “For the guys that are here, we have a little bit different team this season. Every team's different.
“But in the spring, there was a great humility in how we were going about our work. That helped kick-start the year with if we're going to do something special, we're going to need to attack it differently than we did. It wasn't just we were going to copy and paste from the year before.
“That helped. When we got pushed this season, to defend our guys, I don't think our guys got enough credit for winning when people expected us to win. To win a franchise record number of games, the approach these guys brought every day.
“I know we expect it at this level. We expect it with really good teams. Everybody had us in first place from the very beginning. When we got pushed, we fought back. And we won the division in a really good division that wasn't talked about enough as far as being how difficult it was.”
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