World Series 2018: In high-profile manager showdown, Red Sox’s Alex Cora is running circles around Dodgers’ Dave Roberts

BOSTON — Dave Roberts is a name that is wildly popular in Boston and the New England area in general. He got an ovation at Fenway Park ahead of Game 1 of the World Series, and Roberts said in the past that he doesn’t go through a day in the city without someone bringing up “The Steal” to him. 

Thus far in the 2018 World Series, he’s doing nothing but cementing his legacy, as his Dodgers trail the Red Sox two games to none after L.A. dropped Game 2, 4-2. 

I generally think Dave Roberts is a good manager. He probably tweaks and nitpicks a bit much for my tastes, but there’s no denying his relatively new track record. He’s a good baseball man. 

It’s just that through two games, he’s having himself a rough series. We already discussed the issues I had with him not pinch hitting with Max Muncy for David Freese in a key spot in Game 1. 

Something else we could discuss in Game 1 was removing reliever Pedro Baez after two strikeouts in favor of Alex Wood. The next hitter would be Eduardo Nunez with a pinch-hit, three-run homer to put the game on ice. In 8 1/3 innings this postseason, Baez has struck out 12 while allowing just two hits, a .083/.185/.125 slash line and the only run he’s been charged with scored on the Nunez blast. 

Why get cute there? 

Speaking of which, let’s talk about overthinking the lineup. In Game 1, the Dodgers became the first team ever in the World Series to sit each of its top four home run hitters from the regular season, per Elias Sports Bureau. They ran out the same lineup in Game 2. 

Max Muncy hit .263/.391/.582 (161 OPS+) with 35 homers in 395 regular season at-bats. His platoon splits aren’t that big of a deal. 

Muncy vs. LHP: .255/.361/.529
Muncy vs. RHP: .266/.401/.601  

He hit a home run off lefty Max Fried in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Braves. 

Red Sox starter David Price isn’t that much harder on lefties than righties, either. 

Lefties vs. Price: .210/.291/.381
Righties vs. Price: .234/.293/.402

That’s 23 OPS points. It’s the World Series. Just play your best players. Cody Bellinger, by the way, should also get a look. Here are Bellinger’s numbers against opposing starters: 

LHP: .247/.353/.425
RHP: .266/.339/.491

Now, overall his split is far bigger, but that points to a lot of bad results against lefty relievers. The Red Sox don’t have a lefty specialist in relief. Their only southpaws in the bullpen are regular-season starters who aren’t overly scary. 

Maybe you want Freese in the lineup against lefties. Fine. Enrique Hernandez is hitting .094/.216/.188 this postseason. Brian Dozier hasn’t been good since his acquisition and he’s hitting .133/.350/.133 this postseason. Put Freese at first, Muncy at second and Bellinger in center and leave them. 

Again, this is the World Series. Why all the games? Play your best players. 

There’s more. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson discussed his outing in Game 1 and it sounded like the cold weather bothered him. 

“A lot of times with the cold weather, I’m not saying anybody uses anything, but if you use anything, a lot of times it’s not as effective in cold weather. The normal stuff that every pitcher uses, sunscreen and resin, we’re not loading the ball, it’s just on it so we can get a better grip on the ball. You need to adjust that, as well.”

“I don’t think I was completely ready going in there. My arm was ready but I don’t think mechanically I was ready, and it showed that first at-bat. It was a quick up-and-in, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I told them I was ready. I felt like I was ready, but it took another hitter to get ready. I think mainly because of the cold weather and also just the environment.”

It was even colder in Game 2. In fact, one of the coldest World Series games on record. I’m not sure if I’m Roberts if I trust Madson in a big spot. He would go to Madson with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, clinging to a one run lead. Madson would walk Steve Pearce, forcing the tying run home. Then, J.D. Martinez put the Red Sox up for good by dumping a blooper into right field. 

The walk was Madson’s fault. We might be inclined to say that the Martinez single was just one of those things that happens. Of course, didn’t Yasiel Puig look awfully deep there? There were two outs and it was tied. It’s not like he’s in “no-doubles” mode protecting a lead in the ninth with a runner on first. 

Before Game 2, Roberts said the outfielders wouldn’t be playing as deep as they were in Game 1. But, ummm …

Interestingly, that fifth-inning rally started with two outs and a Christian Vazquez single to right. Just eyeballing it from the press box, several of us believed Puig was awfully deep and could have caught the soft liner if he were just a few feet closer to home plate. If he were moved in a few steps, what was the danger with Vazquez? He’s a slow runner and even a ball over Puig’s head is only a double. 

One of the big themes of the NLCS was how much managing was being done. Watching that series, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was overmanaging. The thing was, both teams were doing it, so it wasn’t really that big a deal. Now in the World Series, Alex Cora is managing circles around Dave Roberts and it’s because he’s keeping it simple. Sometimes less is more, as the astute saying goes. 

Roberts helped the Red Sox win the biggest game in franchise history as it would turn out. Now the Red Sox are halfway to their fourth World Series championship in 15 seasons. I’m not sure they needed Roberts help here, but he sure isn’t hurting anything. 

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