The Boston Red Sox entered the All-Star break with a respectable 49-41 record. However, following a season in which they won 108 regular-season games en route to a World Series title, it certainly wasn't up to par with the expectations for the team.
At media availability during the first day of the All-Star break, Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez took some time to explain the key difference between the 2018 and 2019 teams. Adversity.
"We didn't have that adversity (in 2018)," Martinez said to Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com. "We didn't have those ups and downs. Those are the ones that wear you out. Those ups and downs, those are the ones that grind you out mentally. When everyone's cruising, like it was last year, that was easy. It was fun. That was just a roll. You knew somebody that night was going to get a big hit. You knew you were going to win the game somehow. Going to the ballpark with that attitude took so much pressure off our shoulders. It was just different."
Despite the differences between this season and last, Martinez doesn't attribute the changes to manager Alex Cora in his second season at the helm of the team.
"He's been the same honestly," Martinez said to reporters at his media availability. "Hasn't changed one bit. He's had to have a couple more speeches, just because it's a little different."
Martinez was quick to praise Cora's consistency and the fact that he hasn't panicked in the face of the adversity the Red Sox have faced.
"Anytime you don't get that panic from your manager, I think it goes a long way," Martinez said. "Whenever you get that panic from managers and you see they have that pressure, it puts that tension on a team. But Alex has always done a good job not to."
Martinez's confidence in Cora and his teammates is part of the reason that he is still confident that the Red Sox can continue to progress and once again become a legitimate postseason contender.
"For as bad as everyone says it's been, if you look at it, it really hasn't been that bad," Martinez said. "Last year, in my opinion, was an extreme, and to have that expectation to come back and do exactly that, that's pretty tough. But I think we've done a really good job of giving ourselves a chance for the second half and putting ourselves in a position where we can make the playoffs."
In Martinez's defense, the team still is 8 games over .500 and is only 2 games out in the Wild Card race. Part of the reason that their struggles have been exacerbated is due to the fact that the Red Sox play in the ultra-competitive AL East. They are third in the division with the New York Yankees holding a 9-game lead on the Red Sox thanks to their 57-31 record and the Tampa Bay Rays (52-39) maintaining a Wild Card lead that they have possessed for most of the season.
The Sox will have a chance to back up Martinez's assertions after they return from the All-Star break. They start off with a three-game World Series rematch against the Los Angeles Dodgers before taking on AL East opponents in a whopping 21 straight games. That stretch could go a long way to determining whether or not they will have a legitimate shot at making the postseason.
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