FORT MYERS, Fla. — Trevor Story hasn’t hit sixth since 2018, when he was bumped down in for a few games in a potent Rockies’ lineup that included D.J. LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez. In his first year with the Red Sox, it seems like Story will likely see plenty of time in that spot in the lineup.
Wednesday’s Red Sox lineup against the Braves is a good preview of the group Alex Cora will trot out against the Yankees on Opening Day next Thursday. Kiké Hernández is leading off, Rafael Devers is batting second and Story is hitting sixth after Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Alex Verdugo. Against right-handed starters, that’s how Cora envisions his lineup, at least early in the season.
“I like a lot about the top six,” Cora said. “Creating balance. We have the two lefties who are going to play every day (Devers and Verdugo) and then a platoon guy. Somehow, some way we’re going to spread them out and quote-on-quote protect them. I’m loving Raffy hitting second.”
Devers hit second 71 times in 2019 and 42 times in 2020 but made just 23 appearances in that spot last year due to the presence of Verdugo and Kyle Schwarber. For his career, he owns a .911 OPS from the two-hole, which is better than his OPS in any other spot in the order. Batting Devers second will allow Cora to split up the top three righty hitters (Hernández, Bogaerts and Martinez), which is particularly important with the three-batter minimum in place for relievers.
Against lefties, Devers will likely drop lower in the order, potentially to the cleanup spot. Story is a candidate to hit second against southpaws. Cora envisions Martinez hitting fifth, Bobby Dalbec batting sixth and Verdugo much lower against lefty starters. Boston will try to get Christian Arroyo in the lineup against lefties, either in right field (a position he’s working to learn) or at an infield spot when one of the regulars is off. Martinez is slated for a good amount of outfield work when the Sox are facing a lefty and Jackie Bradley Jr. won’t face many of them.
The Red Sox don’t want Arroyo, whose few innings in exhibition play this week are his first taste of the outfield in the majors, to move around and risk injury like when Blake Swihart severely hurt his ankle playing an unfamiliar left field in 2016. Against righties, it will usually be Verdugo and Bradley in the corner outfield spots. Against lefties, Martinez or Arroyo will play right. Verdugo can move from left to right on occasion but Cora prefers to keep him in left, where he made 90 appearances last year.
“I think (Arroyo) is athletic enough to move around in right field,” Cora said. “We’ll try to put him in spots that we know the ball is going to be hit there.”
In 2021, the Red Sox had the second-best OPS in baseball (.788) against righties but just the eighth-best (.758) against lefties. Cora thinks the addition of Story will help. Dropping Story to sixth against righties isn’t a knock on his offensive profile. It’s more of a commentary on the strength of the rest of Boston’s offense. Plus, Cora thinks it will allow the speedy second baseman to run more freely than he would if he hit leadoff in front of the team’s big boppers.
“One thing I’m looking forward to is to giving him the free will to do whatever he wants on the basepaths in that spot,” Cora said. “Obviously, you’ve got to be very careful (in the leadoff spot) – although he’s a great baserunner and whenever he goes, he’s safe – in that spot, we can just let him be and do whatever he wants. Run the bases and steal bases and set the table for the lower third of the lineup. That’s the way I envision it, splitting the lefties, protecting the lefties and for now, letting him get his feet wet.”
As always, Cora won’t be afraid to mix up his lineup as the season progresses and he changes his mind on certain parts of it. But with just over a week before Opening Day, he feels good with what he has. The next few days will be spent finalizing the 28-man roster for April 7. Barring an unexpected change, Cora believes everyone who goes to New York with the team is already in camp. At this point, a free agent or trade addition appears unlikely.
“I believe (the group) is here, but maybe we can add,” Cora said. “But I do believe we have the 28 guys here.”