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Cora: Resting stars will be key down stretch

Betts, Martinez, Bogaerts, Kinsler held out of starting lineup Wednesday
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

ATLANTA -- When they head home for Thursday's off-day, the Red Sox will have 21 games left in what has been a magical season so far. Down the stretch, manager Alex Cora will balance winning games with preserving his troops.

It started on Wednesday, as Cora held Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Ian Kinsler out of the starting lineup in Atlanta. That set up the talented quartet to have two full days of rest heading into Friday's opener of a three-game showdown against the Astros.

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ATLANTA -- When they head home for Thursday's off-day, the Red Sox will have 21 games left in what has been a magical season so far. Down the stretch, manager Alex Cora will balance winning games with preserving his troops.

It started on Wednesday, as Cora held Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Ian Kinsler out of the starting lineup in Atlanta. That set up the talented quartet to have two full days of rest heading into Friday's opener of a three-game showdown against the Astros.

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"That's a lot of talent out there," Cora said of a lineup that still included Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Phillips and Rafael Devers. "It's not like we're just showing up and not trying to win. I think the guys we're playing are good players, and at the same time, we're going to benefit from having two off days for the other guys. We're in good shape."

At 96-44 entering Wednesday, the Red Sox stood just 10 wins away from setting the franchise record. The 1912 club holds the record with 105 victories.

But that won't be a motivating factor for Cora. His objective is to get his team into the postseason in the best shape possible to win the World Series.

"It doesn't mean anything to me, to be honest with you," Cora said of the franchise win record. "If it happens, it happens. We're not going to push for anything. We're going to push to win series. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.

"When I signed here in November, I had my own goals, and 105 was like way [down the list], I didn't even think about 105. I think the most important thing here is to be ready to do what we're supposed to do in September and make it to October, and then it's 11 games in October. That's the goal right now. If it happens, I know it's great. If we keep playing good baseball, we can win series. But it's nothing we're shooting for."

There will also be some individual accomplishments players are trying to reach when Cora considers his daily lineups. Betts and Martinez are top contenders for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Chris Sale is the race for the AL Cy Young Award and should come back from the disabled list next week.

Video: MLB Now takes a look J.D. Martinez's MVP resume

Entering the day, the Red Sox had a magic number of five to earn a spot in the playoffs and 15 to clinch the AL East.

"It all depends how they feel and where we at," said Cora. "We're getting close to one of the goals, to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Then there's other team goals that we have to accomplish. It's something that we know, we've got to keep playing and see where we're at, and then after that, hopefully we can do what we set out to do in Spring Training.

"And then we've got to sit down with some players and see what they want to do. I respect all the individual accomplishments and we'll talk about it and go from there, but I think at the end, as a group, we understand that rest will be very important. We'll take care of them, but at the same time, we'll take care of their individual accomplishments."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

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