Red Sox

Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

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Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

FORT MYERS, Fla.  -- At Fenway Park at least, there may be no need to implement silly mechanisms to increase pace of play. Alex Cora’s vision for the Sox offense could speed us along.

The Sox of yore strove to work counts for the sake of booting a starter out of the game early. A higher pitch count made it easier to get into a presumably weaker bullpen.

The difference now is manifold. For one, relievers are simply better. 

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“We used to wait them out. But that was 10 years ago, 13 years ago,” Cora said Thursday morning, before the Red Sox first exhibition game of the spring. “It's been a while. It's a different game. I had a conversation with Mikey [Lowell] about that. I was like, ‘Mikey, the starters, they go four or five innings.’

“[They don’t] bring in the 87-88 [mph] cutter/sinker/breaking ball guy. Now the guy in the sixth inning is 97 with a great off-speed pitch, secondary pitch. I'm a big believer when you get to that starter, if you can get him right away, get him. Either he'll get you or you'll get him.”

And everyone is very directly trying to "get” one another. Attack plans are both more deliberate and more easily accessible these days. The proliferation of analytics has led to better scouting reports. Waste pitches may still be thrown with some sense of purpose, but there is a trend toward maximizing efficiency. See Chris Sale, who has talked a lot about the need to reduce wasted pitches -- not necessarily the same as a purposeful pitch outside of the zone , but still in the same vein. You don't necessarily need a fastball to set up your amazing curveball, or may not need it as frequently.

The best offense in the majors in 2017 belonged to the world champion Astros, and they saw the second fewest pitches per plate appearance of anyone in the majors, 3.78. Cora was their bench coach.

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Now, you can still have a great offense and work counts. The team the Astros beat in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees, had 3.98 pitches per plate appearance in the regular season, the second-most. The Red Sox were seventh, at 3.94.

Another effect rooted in the same causes: Lineup construction doesn’t mean quite as much. A left-right balance may be helpful throughout the regular season, at least, but it doesn’t have to drive the boat.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter,” Cora said. “You put the best lineup out there. I hate to bring up last year, because I want turn the page, but you saw what happened at the end. We had five righties [in the Astros lineup consecutively], it didn’t matter. If you can hit, you can hit. 

“They’re good hitters. Throughout the minor leagues, you face lefties and righties and all of a sudden, your first month in the big leagues and you can’t hit lefties. I never got that. Probably have to make that decision later on, but it doesn’t matter.”

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Lineup protection isn’t a priority, either, from the sound of it.

“I believe in lineup construction, that’s most important,” Cora said recently. “You’ve got David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramirez], you pick your poison. You’ve got Miguel [Cabrera] and Victor [Martinez], you pick your poison. You decide when to challenge who at certain times. But I think it’s making that lineup long enough to keep putting pressure on the opposition. 

“The way the league is pitching sometimes, it doesn’t matter who is hitting behind you. It’s a matter of how they attack you. There are certain teams [where] this is how you’re going to attack this guy, regardless of the situation, and they’re going to go there. If they walk him, they walk him. And if they strike him out, they strike him out. If they put together a good at-bat and they get on base, so be it. It’s a lot different because of the way stats are attacking guys. So for me, it’s all about construction."

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Michael Chavis on kid-PA announcer: 'That kid might be lucky. We need to bring him back'

Michael Chavis on kid-PA announcer: 'That kid might be lucky. We need to bring him back'

BOSTON -- The raw enthusiasm of the introduction caught Michael Chavis by surprise, so he responded with a wave. One pitch later, both Chavis and the 5-year-old guest PA announcer who had just shouted his name really had something worth celebrating.

The fan's name was Jackson, and he announced Chavis with some serious exuberance in the fifth, beaming broadly and sporting a Red Sox cap.

"NOW BATTING! … SECOND BASEMAN! … NO. 23! … MICHAEL CHAVIS!"

Chavis pointed to the booth and then promptly destroyed a first-pitch cutter from Wade Miley over everything in left field to start the Red Sox on the road back from a 3-1 deficit in Sunday's 4-3 victory vs. the Astros.

"Screaming," said manager Alex Cora. "That was fun. That was cool. We need more of that. We need more. The fans love that stuff. It was cool."

Chavis loved it, too. He not only pointed to young Jackson from the box, he did so again after he crossed home plate following his eighth home run of the season.

"I didn't get a warning that it was going to happen, so I just heard a kid's voice and I'm sure on video you can see me look up because I was so surprised," Chavis said. "And then he kept talking, and I was impressed at how confident he was, because when I was a little kid, I would've been so nervous, I don't think I even would've done it. I was kind of laughing to myself, like good for that kid. Right before I got into the box, I felt like I should say good job."

Chavis felt even better after blasting Miley's offering 420 feet. He thought of the fan as he rounded the bases, and so he pointed again after crossing the plate and clapping.

"Honestly, it was cool," he said. "I don't know if I'm ever going to meet him, but it was a cool moment for sure. I got to see a little bit of a video of it and how it played out. It's something I'm going to remember, and hopefully he does as well."

As for any future at-bats, Chavis wouldn't mind hearing that enthusiastic little voice again.

"That kid might be lucky," he said. "We need to bring him back."

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Remarkable stat about Chris Sale's record over recent stretch

Remarkable stat about Chris Sale's record over recent stretch

Chris Sale wasn't at his best down the stretch of the 2018 regular season, and he got off to a tough start in 2019. However, despite his relative struggles, his record over a recent stretch of games is still remarkable.

Per the Red Sox Stats Twitter account, Sale has only won one of his last 14 starts.

It's strange to see a pitcher like Sale post these kinds of numbers, especially given how dominant he had been throughout the early portion of the '18 season.

For context, this 14-game stretch dates back to Sale's final four starts of the 2018 regular season. Over the course of this 14-start stretch, Sale has posted a slightly below-average 4.21 ERA, but he still had 101 strikeouts over 68 1/3 innings. Yet he has only logged a 1-5 record with eight no-decisions in that span.

Over the course of his previous 14 starts, Sale posted a 9-3 record. During that time, he had a much better ERA (1.84) and a higher strikeout total, too (141). Though he was pitching better, it's still strange to see such a huge disparity in his record between the two separate stints.

Sale has been regaining his form after a rough start to his 2019 campaign, so perhaps his next 14 starts will start to see improvements in his record. He has totaled 27 strikeouts of the course of his last two starts, so that is a good sign for him moving forward.

Chavis compared to former MLB second baseman>>>

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