BOSTON -- You may have heard that Alex Cora was the bench coach for A.J. Hinch at one point. Cora nailed it on Thursday at Fenway Park, two days before the start of what should be a fantastic American League Championship Series between the Astros and Red Sox.
"A.J. Hinch, he was amazing with me last year. I appreciate the guy,” Cora said. “We’ve been staying in touch. We’ve been talking about our families and the important things of life. On Saturday, he has a job to do, I have a job to do, and it should be fun. At the end, honestly, A.J.’s not throwing the ball, I’m not throwing a ball. It’s all about talent on the field. They’re going to decide what’s going on. Obviously, we have to do our job to put them in positions to be successful. But at the end, my last at-bat was 2011. And A.J.’s was a while ago. It’s not about us, it’s not about Alex Cora-A.J. Hinch. It’s about the players.”
If FanGraphs’ wins above replacement is your cup of tea, six of the top 30 position players in the majors in 2018 are in this series: Mookie Betts (1), Alex Bregman (4), J.D. Martinez (10), Xander Bogaerts (22), Jose Altuve (23), Andrew Benintendi (30).
Peek at the separate list of pitchers (minimum 130 innings), and there are another five by fWAR, four of them Astros: Justin Verlander (3), Chris Sale (4), Gerrit Cole (6), Dallas Keuchel (22) and Charlie Morton (30).
“There’s some talent out there,” Cora said. “If you’re a baseball fan, this is, wow, I mean, Altuve and Mookie and Carlos and Xander, it should be fun. Because you don’t see this very often. You know, not only two good teams, but you start looking at the talent on the field, you got a center fielder that is 240 [pounds] and is 6-4 and he leads off for the Houston Astros. And then our guy’s 5-7, -8, whatever it is [in Betts]. He’s probably the MVP of the league, and then you have Altuve, who’s whatever he says he is, and he can hit, and Sale and Verlander, Price, Cole. There’s a lot of great names out there. Like I said, as a baseball fan, this is, I know probably fans are like hopefully he goes seven so they can see all this talent just go out there and perform.”
So how to rank these Astros-Red Sox crossover storylines?
1. J.D. Martinez vs. the Astros. This is the one that has enough mainstream appeal to be worth watching nightly, but is also layered in enough history to make it worthwhile as a deep cut. Martinez, famously, was cut by the Astros in 2014. Should he have been more afforded more at-bats in spring training after rebuilding his swing? Who should have commanded that he be afforded that playing time, ex-manager Bo Porter or current boss Jeff Luhnow? Adron Chambers got more at-bats than Martinez that spring. Who’s that? Good question. What a sweet reward it would be for Martinez, already on a potential nine-figure contract, to get to the World Series at the expense of the team that let him go -- and here’s betting, if administered a truth serum, he’d say the same. Dave Dombrowski may not have personally engineered Martinez’s signing as minor leaguer with Detroit after the Astros let him go, but nonetheless, Dombrowski’s operation was a huge winner at the time, ultimately, and could again be here.
2. Chris Sale vs. Justin Verlander. Former AL Central-mates and 2018 Cy Young candidates are about to get a closeup, not that Verlander's lacked one.
3. J.D. Martinez vs. Jose Altuve. Say you have one at-bat to win a game. Martinez is arguably the best pure hitter in baseball at the moment, unless you wanted to hand that award, to say, his former minor-league teammate from his first year in pro ball, 2009, Jose Altuve. Or maybe Martinez’s current teammate, Mookie Betts? Make your case, go ahead.
4. George Springer vs. Mookie Betts. Who would you rather have in right field for the next 5 to 10 years? Why? Which one is more likely to be in Boston in 10 years, the Connecticut native Springer, or Betts?
5. Jeff Luhnow vs. Dave Dombrowski. Ground Control vs. Carmine’s replacement, Beacon. New and old, writ large. The discussion of this matter, really a collection of matters, could take up a lot of time, for willing participants.
6. A.J. Hinch vs. Alex Cora. Tete a tete. But let’s remember they were together only one year, these aren’t lifelong friends (although they probably will be now.) They both are close with Joe Espada, the bench coach of the Astros who replaced Cora in Houston, and Espada could have gone to either team. Consider this the fight for Espada’s love, then.
8. Andrew Benintendi vs. Alex Bregman. The Astros could have drafted Andrew Benintendi. They took two players instead of Benintendi, Bregman and Kyle Tucker. No regrets so far. . . right?
9. Wally the Green Monster vs. Orbit, also a green Monster. The mascots are both beloved. Both are green. Both are monstrous. Both are mischievous.
10. Craig Bjornson and the Red Sox bullpen vs. the Astros’ pen. Now we’re in the thicket. Bjornson (the Red Sox' bullpen coach, for those unaware) is beloved by players in both organizations. The Sox scored him from Houston after Houston decided he wasn’t coming back. Not everyone in the Astros’ org was thrilled about that choice. Can the Sox ‘pen, maligned much of the year, make the Astros pay?
12. Whataburger vs. Tasty Burger.