We all expected the Red Sox to win 90+ games this season, right? And we all expected them to make the playoffs, yes? And I know we all certainly thought the team would be playing for the pennant, correct?

No? Oh, that's right. This team was supposed to win no more than 81-83 games (as I and many others said in spring training...) and finished no higher than third or fourth place in the American League East.

Well, here we are, waiting for an opponent to face in the ALCS. There have been many surprises this season, no doubt. Kike Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe and even Kyle Schwarber have proven as wonderful additions. Nathan Eovaldi emerging as a dominant player was another pleasant surprise, as was Rafael Devers' development into one of the most-feared power hitters in the American League.

But yet again, the biggest difference between this year's Red Sox team and ones before it may be the skipper who returned to sit on his perch at the edge of the dugout.

Alex Cora, much like he did in 2018, has gotten the better of critics yet again and showed why he should be considered at minimum one of the best managers in the game, if not the finest of them all.

While so much of the sport is consumed by analytics (look no further than Boston's ALDS opponent) Cora still manages a game using acumen and instinct rather than what a spreadsheet tells him to do.

While Kevin Cash hurried Collin McHugh from last night's ballgame after two scoreless innings, Cora felt E-Rod was in command, so he kept rolling with his starter. Hell, he even sent him out to start the sixth inning after seemingly everyone assumed Rodriguez was done after five.

It's easy to get caught up in recency bias, but Cora's resume speaks for itself.

In three years on the job, he's guided the club to its best-ever campaign and now has a team of misfits on the doorsteps of the World Series. That right there is enough to cover the warts. You know, a not-so-great 83-win 2019 season where Cora's stubbornness may have done in the Sox from the jump. And that whole cheating/getting disgraced and fired, then re-hired in the same year thing.

Cora is now 5-0 in his managerial career in potential close-out games and has the highest winning percentage in MLB postseason history among managers with at least 15 games under their belt.

But don't forget about Tito, now. The other man who can rightfully stake his claim as the best manager in franchise history.

Terry Francona broke the curse in Year 1, he won another World Series in Year 4, and guided the team to Game 7 of the ALCS in Year 5. Yeah, it didn't end all that well, but Francona's success cannot be denied.

Which 21st century skipper do you think is/was Boston's best?

(Special shout out to all-time wins leader Joe Cronin, World Series champs Jimmy Collins, John Farrell and 2-time champ Bill Carrigan, as well as the author of the 1967 Impossible Dream team Dick Williams, but this isn't about you guys...)


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