Red Sox

Alex Cora doesn't buy that pitching in ninth is harder than seventh or eighth, even as Red Sox relievers struggle

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Alex Cora doesn't buy that pitching in ninth is harder than seventh or eighth, even as Red Sox relievers struggle

BOSTON -- It sure looks like the Red Sox have a ninth-inning problem, but Alex Cora doesn't see it that way.

One day after his bullpen coughed up yet another ninth-inning lead in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers, Cora expressed confidence in his core relievers and disputed the notion that pitching in the ninth is any different than the seventh or eighth.

He also admitted he can't explain why the team ERA is so much worse in the ninth (6.00) than the seventh (4.03) and eighth (3.49).

"It's one of those that a lot of people have their thoughts about the ninth inning, that those three outs are bigger than the first 24," Cora said. "There's others that feel there's people that are ready for that one. They can do it there. I don't know. I really don't. I just feel that we're trying to maximize our talent. Maximize our strength and match it up with them."

Does Cora believe the idea that the ninth is harder has merit?

"I don't," he said. "I really don't. I just think if you execute pitches you get people out. Yesterday, we didn't and we paid the price."

On Monday, Matt Barnes allowed two runs while trying to protect a 2-1 lead against Texas. The Red Sox forced extra innings before losing in 11 innings. Do the Red Sox need to acquire another arm?

"We're always looking for ways to improve," Cora said. "That's what the organization has done. I do feel that we've got to put ourselves in a situation that, yeah, if we do this we're going to be elite again. So, I think thinking ahead, yeah, it's great, it's always great because that's what we do. But we need to get this right first and go from there."

Cora expressed confidence in what has emerged as his core group: Brandon Workman, Barnes, Marcus Walden, and right-hander Heath Hembree. He hopes the impending return of left-hander Brian Johnson provides depth.

"I think we're still getting people out," Cora said. "That has been going on. You compare us to other bullpens, yeah the saves are not there, but we're still doing a good job. We're still matching up and finding matchups that are going to benefit us.​"

Now if they could just figure out the ninth inning . . .

 
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2020 MLB schedule: When and where Red Sox will play Yankees this season

2020 MLB schedule: When and where Red Sox will play Yankees this season

Major League Baseball's most historic rivalry will see another 10 regular season games played in 2020.

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will square off 10 times during the shortened regular season. Each of the American League East teams will play 10 games apiece versus division rivals and the remaining 20 matchups against National League East opponents. 

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

The first series between the Red Sox and Yankees this season will take place from July 31 through Aug. 2 at Yankee Stadium. In fact, seven of the 10 games between these rivals will be played in New York. 

Here are the dates and locations for all 10 of the Red Sox-Yankees matchups during the 2020 regular season:

  • July 31-Aug. 2: at Yankee Stadium
  • Aug. 14-17: at Yankee Stadium
  • Sept. 18-20: at Fenway Park

Playing most of these games in the Bronx is far from ideal for the Red Sox, but it's hard for the league to make it an even (or close to even) split when there are fewer games and minimizing travel is a priority.

The Yankees are among the favorites to win the 2020 World Series. In fact, oddsmakers at DraftKings Sportsbook have made the Yankees the betting favorite to win the AL pennant this season. New York also is right behind the Los Angeles Dodgers with the second-best odds to win the World Series. The Yankees have not reached the World Series since 2009, which also is the year of their last championship.

The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2018, and they are not expected to be a contender in 2020. Boston has the third-best odds to win the AL East and the sixth-highest odds to claim the AL pennant. Suspect starting pitching depth and a shaky bullpen are two concerns for the Red Sox entering the season.

Anything can happen, though, especially in a shortened season during which each game will carry greater importance. A good record against the rival Yankees could go a long way in the Red Sox having a chance at clinching a postseason berth in late September.

2020 Red Sox schedule: Dates, opponents for shortened season revealed

2020 Red Sox schedule: Dates, opponents for shortened season revealed

The Major League Baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint -- except for 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the normal 162-game schedule being trimmed down to a 60-game format where each matchup will take on greater importance.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

The Boston Red Sox will open up their new season with a three-game series versus the Baltimore Orioles beginning July 24 at Fenway Park. 

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker announced last week that local pro teams could begin hosting games without fans later this month. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told reporters in late June that he's "hopeful" of having fans at Fenway Park at some point during the 2020 season, but he's not sure if it will happen.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, each team's schedule has been built to minimize travel as much as possible. This means the Red Sox, for example, will only play American League East and National League East teams. Boston has 10 games against each of its four divisional rivals, and the remaining 20 games are with NL East opponents.

The Red Sox will take on the rival New York Yankees for the first time beginning July 31 with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. Seven of the 10 games versus the Yankees will be played in New York. The Sox also will play the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals at Fenway Park in a three game series from Aug. 28 through Aug. 30.

Boston's final series of the regular season will be played against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park from Sept. 25 through Sept. 27.