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Alex Cora, JD Martinez tasked with getting Red Sox back to World Series

Alex Cora is entering his first season as Red Sox manager. Getty Images

In Terry Francona’s first year as Red Sox skipper in 2004, he won the World Series. In John Farrell’s first year as Sox manager in 2013, he too won the World Series. Sandwiched in between was Bobby Valentine in 2012 – who took things completely the other way as the Sox finished with a 69-93 record, the franchise’s worst mark in five decades.

The odds are that Alex Cora will last more than one season here, unlike Bobby V., but it’s still very much unclear as to whether or not Cora can get a talented Sox team over the hump in the postseason.

Sportsline has the Red Sox, the team with the highest payroll in the majors, with the seventh best odds of winning the 2018 World Series at 10/1. Ahead of them are the Astros (5/1), Dodgers (11/2), Yankees (13/2), Indians (6/1), Cubs (15/2) and Nationals (19/2).

Part of the reason Vegas may be hesitant to put the Sox higher is that Cora has just one year of baseball coaching experience under his belt. Cora was the bench coach for the World Series champion Astros (also the team that eliminated the Sox last fall). Prior to that, Cora was a baseball analyst for ESPN.

“I understand that experience is important, but I was a utility guy [as a player,” Cora said. “I was managed by a lot of good ones – Davey Johnson, Terry Francona, Jerry Manuel – and when you’re a utility guy you have to pay attention to the game. You really do. A lot of people back in the day said I was going to be a future manager, and I hated that because I wanted to keep playing. But I learned a lot from those managers and a lot this year from [Astros manager] AJ Hinch. People don’t give him enough credit. He’s a superstar. We had good times, bad times and horrible times. But at the end of the day we have a [World Series] ring. I learned a lot.”

Cora last played in the majors in 2011 as a member of the Nationals. He is just 42-years-old and a big part of the appeal of Cora is that he seemingly can relate to today’s MLB player. Farrell was also an ex-player, but he is 13 years Cora’s senior.

Cora also “gets” Boston, which is something Valentine certainly did not. Cora played for the Sox from 2005-08, helping the team win a World Series in 2007.

“Boston is a challenge, but for me, it’s not,” Cora said. “I understand they live baseball 24/7. I come from a country [Puerto Rico] that does that, and with my family it’s the same. This is a good baseball team, a team that – as you know – have won back-to-back division titles – but at the end of the day this city – everybody wants to win a world championship.”

 

Home runs solve everything

There might be a little hesitation among Sox fans to embrace JD Martinez given the long and drawn-out flirtation with the club in free agency this past winter. But Martinez can solve that with a couple early season home runs.

Traditionally the Red Sox are a power hitting team, but last year things hit rock bottom in the dinger department. The Sox finished dead last in the American League in homers, belting just 168. By comparison, the rival Yankees (No. 1 in MLB) slammed 241 homers as a team.

There is now a ton of pressure on Martinez to help improve the team’s power numbers. Martinez hit a career-high 45 home runs last season. In 2016, he hit 22 homers, and in 2015 he hit 38.

The track record for Martinez as one of baseball’s elite home run hitters is relatively small, but the 30-year-old says he’s absolutely up for the challenge of elevating his status to one of baseball’s top home run threats.

“I’m expecting, hopefully, to do a lot of damage,” Martinez said. “That’s the game plan coming in. As far as the Red Sox’ lineup goes, it’s a strong lineup, it’s a good lineup. I’ve been looking at them, checking them out, studying them, obviously playing against them with Detroit. They’ve got guys with a lot of speed, guys who get on base, guys that can really move around the bags and produce runs very quickly. I’m happy to be a part of that now.”