Sox Talk with Will Middlebrooks is a recurring content series on Middlebrooks, a former Red Sox player and current NESN analyst, gives his insight and opinion on pertinent Red Sox storylines throughout the season. You can read the latest stories from the series here.

There are many factors that can be pointed to as the reason for the Boston Red Sox amassing a somewhat surprising 42-36 record at basically the midway point in the regular season.

Strong starting pitching carried the team early on. Jarren Duran exploded into an All-Star candidate. Contributions are coming from up and down the lineup, too.

But Will Middlebrooks always comes back to the manager.

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Middlebrooks sees Alex Cora doing an exemplary job this season at the helm of the Red Sox, who are light years away from the level of talent they had in 2018 when they won the World Series under Cora. But Cora is getting the best out of the current group he’s been handed and his fingerprints are all over Boston’s success.

“All bias aside, I think he’s the best manager in baseball,” Middlebrooks told “Obviously, we’ve seen what he can do with a healthy, talented group and now he’s got a group that has been crushed by injuries. I love Rob Refsnyder but he’s not a four-hole hitter. But how many times have we’ve seen him hitting four-hole? But he’s having a good year so he plays and he fits the mold.”

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Cora sets himself apart from other skippers around the league with his ability to connect with players. The 48-year-old Puerto Rico native can put himself in his player’s cleats, especially since he played 14 seasons in the big leagues as a scrappy infielder.

The connection Cora creates helps to get his message across and the Red Sox certainly are running with it as of late. Boston has won four straight series, including taking two out of three games from both the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. The Red Sox beat the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday to put them in the third and final wild-card spot in the American League.

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If the Red Sox can secure a playoff spot, Cora just might win AL Manager of the Year honors for the first time in his career.

“I think he’s able to get guys to the next level mentally. It’s like a belief and a confidence and he’s a good communicator,” Middlebrooks said. “He’s good at teaching. Some managers aren’t good at teaching. They’re good at making good lineups and being a big voice. If you watch him, it’s like he’s one of the guys when he’s with them. I think it’s a product of this era, too. When I played, managers wanted there to be a fear of them a little bit. That was the old school way of like, ‘I’m the manager. I run this thing.’ And Cora’s like one of the guys.”

Making Cora’s job even more challenging this season is presiding over a young group and nurturing them through the mistakes that have been made given their inexperience.

But Cora navigated that, too, and the Red Sox youngsters are thriving under his watch. Cora’s patience with Duran paid off. He pushed the right buttons when it came to Ceddanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu, both of whom are playing in their first full seasons in the majors and are making an impact.

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Coaching up those younger players isn’t always easy, but Cora showed he could do it, and do it well, too. He might be tasked with it more if he hangs around Boston after this season.

“You’re going to get more out of players when they’re comfortable,” Middlebrooks said. “It used to be young guys they wanted you to be uncomfortable, you had to earn the right to be comfortable, which is dumb. It’s dumb. It makes no sense. My first couple of years I was so uncomfortable all the time. That’s just how they treated young players and it’s stupid.

“I think Cora runs a clubhouse that takes care of young guys. They want you to be comfortable, they want you to be yourself and I think that enables players to really tap into a higher ability.”

Cora certainly won’t take any credit for what the Red Sox have put together this season. That’s not in his nature at all.

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But in a lot of ways, everything begins and ends with the man on the top step of the dugout.

Featured image via Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports Images