Cora: WC race fun, stressful ... all the above

Plans for final Interleague series; Barnes, Brasier proving important

September 30th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- The earliest the Red Sox can punch their ticket to the postseason is Saturday, which means there’s going to continue to be scoreboard-watching galore for the next three days.

One piece of good news for Boston manager Alex Cora: The Mariners don’t play on Thursday, which means he can get to sleep earlier.

In truth, Cora is enjoying the urgency of each day and the various elements at play.

“I stayed up all [Wednesday] night watching Seattle and Oakland, and then you start looking around and you’re like, 'Wow, this is fun, this is stressful. All of the above,'” Cora said. “That’s why you sign up to play baseball, for a chance to make it to the playoffs. Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. You want to win the division. But this is where you’re at, and not every year do you have a chance to compete and have a chance to make it to the playoffs.”

For perspective, consider that the Red Sox spent the past two Septembers out of the pennant race -- let alone having a strong chance to play in October.

“We thought in ’18 and ’19 we were going to run away with the division and win back-to-back World Series, and it didn’t happen,” said Cora. “So you appreciate everything that is going on. It’s not easy. I think you see the puzzle scenario. Let’s take care of business, that’s the way I put it. Let’s take care of business and avoid the drama. It’s been a fun ride.”

Consider what Cora and his team were going through a month ago -- a COVID-19 outbreak that left the team without a double-digit amount of players at once -- and this truly is a time to savor.

Getting through adversity makes it satisfying.

“It’s been a fun year with all the obstacles. I think the guys understand you have to enjoy it,” said Cora. “You have to actually enjoy every moment, because you never know what can happen next year. They came from a season last year of a 60-game season with everything we were living with in the world. So you can’t take a day for granted, and I think they are doing an outstanding job of staying in the moment and having fun with it.”

Down a man in DC
When the Red Sox finish the regular season with three games against the Nationals starting on Friday, they will be without the designated hitter, which isn’t ideal at a time the club is trying to punch a ticket to the postseason.

Though there’s a scenario in which Cora could play Kyle Schwarber at first and J.D. Martinez in left while keeping Bobby Dalbec and Alex Verdugo on the bench, that would weaken the team defensively.

“Yeah, it’s something that I circled really early in the season that we were going to play the last three games without the DH,” said Cora. “We’ve been talking about it. We’ll see how we do it. Obviously we’ve got some good offensive players that can change games with one swing. And at the same time, we have to create the balance with the defense, but we’ll see.”

With no DH, Eduardo Rodriguez can continue his seemingly endless pursuit of trying to get his first Major League hit when he takes the ball on Friday. Rodriguez’s lack of skill as a hitter (0-for-23 lifetime) has become a running joke for the Red Sox.

“Hopefully he has to bunt three times,” said Cora.

The importance of Barnes, Brasier
One encouraging development from Wednesday’s 6-0 win over the Orioles that was overlooked? A nine-pitch ninth inning by Matt Barnes.

It was the best Barnes has looked since he lost the closer’s role in August.

“[From now] until Sunday, somebody is going to have get big outs for us, including him. He did a good job yesterday, I think, fastball-wise, to be able to throw it in the strike zone,” said Cora. “And also that swing and miss by [Trey] Mancini on the breaking ball. That was another positive. So we’ll keep working with him. He’s feeling better about himself. Let’s see how the games play out and how we’re going to use him.”

Ryan Brasier is another reliever who could earn more high-leverage opportunities in the coming days. The righty walked the first batter he faced Wednesday and then retired the next three, two of them on strikeouts. Brasier was optioned to Triple-A Worcester on Sept. 17, only to return four days later after Garrett Whitlock landed on the injury list with a right pectoral strain.

Cora has sensed Brasier’s competitiveness kick in of late.

“I guarantee you that, it’s that attitude, right? 'You guys sent me down and somebody got hurt and I’m back, I’m going to prove to you that I belong here,'” Cora said. “I’m glad that he’s doing that. He did a great job last week. Yesterday, he was good. It feels like the fastball of ’18, the fastball of last year. Those are good signs.”