Red Sox manager Alex Cora has confirmed that J.D. Martinez will start every game of the upcoming World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But for Martinez to do that, he will have to man a corner outfield spot in the DH-less Dodger Stadium. Which means either Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, or surprise playoff hero Jackie Bradley Jr. will have to begin Games 3, 4, and 5 (if needed) on the bench. As tough of a call as this is to make, this is a problem of the champagne variety for Cora. But his decisions here are certainly not inconsequential.
We know one thing for sure. Martinez is playing. And we can assume that Betts, the likely AL MVP and one of baseball’s two or three best players, is going to crack the lineup as well.
That leaves Cora with a choice: sit Benintendi, or sit Bradley. If Benintendi gets the nod to start games in Los Angeles, it’s likely we’d see the slightly speedier Betts take center field for Bradley, and Benny and Martinez each take a corner spot. If Bradley gets the start, he would remain in center, Betts would remain in right, and Martinez would take left.
So the question becomes, which way does Cora go?
Both Benintendi and Bradley are lefties, so that takes away the obvious “righty vs. lefty, lefty vs. righty” matchup decision. Boston will face one of each in Games 3 and 4 (Bueller, a righty, and Hill, a lefty). Both Benintendi and Bradley hit right-handed pitching well, but Benintendi fares better than Bradley against left-handers (a .247 BA compared to Bradley’s .185). Perhaps this gets him the nod in Game 4 against Rich Hill.
Defensively, both are excellent. But, despite Benintendi’s game-winning diving snag in the ALCS, the edge here certainly goes to Bradley. He’s a little faster, tracks the ball with the best of them, and has an arm that keeps runners thinking twice before trying to take an extra base. There’s a lot more room to roam in Dodger stadium than in Fenway, and with Martinez likely in left field, perhaps Cora chooses to play things with a defensive mindset to start these games.
But maybe Cora wants to base his decision off of this current postseason run. A “what have you done for me lately” kind of approach. Here’s how Benintendi and Bradley stack up:
Benintendi – .214 BA, 0 HRs, 4 RBI, 10 Ks (in 9 games)
Bradley – .185 BA, 2 HRs, 9 RBI, 6 Ks (in 9 games)
The batting averages for both shouldn’t inspire confidence in either player. But it’s real hard to forget about how Bradley earned those 9 RBIs- with three of the most clutch postseason hits in recent Red Sox memories. Given his propensity for the clutch in these playoffs, maybe Cora rides the relatively hot hand with Bradley at the dish than Benintendi, who has yet to really show any of that pop we saw from him during the regular season. And Bradley is an effective baserunner, with 17 steals in 18 attempts this season. Just another factor to consider.
Or maybe Cora goes in a completely different direction, a direction Red Sox fans would be equal parts terrified and fascinated to watch. Perhaps the most epic roster move of all time (if people track these sorts of things):
Mookie Betts at second base.
Cora has hinted (although somewhat begrudgingly) that he could stick Mookie Betts at second base (his natural position in the minor leagues), and let Martinez take the final outfield spot. This would keep both Bradley and Benintendi in the starting lineup. Mookie has taken some reps at practice, and even spent 6 innings of a game this season at second to replace an injured Ian Kinsler. If this is the route Cora takes, it would become the stuff of legend for both Betts and Cora if it works. Cora becomes a bona fide roster whisperer, and Betts cements himself as baseball’s elite five-tool player.
The likelihood of this seems small, and probably hinges on how hot or cold the lineup has been to that point in the series (i.e., do they need as many bats as possible, or can they suffice with Brock Holt or Ian Kinsler at second). Either way, the Bogaerts-Betts double play tandem is certainly fun to think about.
Luckily for Cora and the Red Sox, they have home-field advantage in this series. He’s got two games in Boston to take the temperature of this series before making any moves. But it will be interesting to see where Boston’s first-year manager decides to station his troops in L.A.
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