Alex Cora was destined to manage a Major League Baseball team. Throughout his 14-year playing career, his teammates and coaches spoke glowingly of his clubhouse presence and baseball smarts. Sure enough, the Boston Red Sox — one of his former teams — hired Cora as their manager this past offseason after he spent one year as the bench coach for the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros.

On Tuesday, Cora and the Red Sox — who won 108 games this season and defeated the New York Yankees and the Astros in convincing fashion in the AL Division Series and AL Championship Series, respectively — will begin the last leg of their title pursuit, when they face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who advanced to the World Series after a tough back-and-forth NL Championship Series with the Milwaukee Brewers. In the Los Angeles dugout sits skipper Dave Roberts, Cora's former Dodger teammate and another man who received praise for his leadership and on-field instincts as a player.

Both Cora and Roberts are part of a new generation of managers — relatively young former players (Cora is 43 and Roberts is 46) — who have achieved swift success on the field and garnered great respect from their clubhouses and fans in the second phase of their baseball careers. They've done so by thinking about baseball differently, combining the natural feel for the game they developed in their playing days with a cerebral analytics-approved approach. And they're not afraid of bucking tradition in order to win.

To be sure, Cora and Roberts benefit from guiding two of the league's wealthiest franchises in vast media markets. The Red Sox have the highest payroll in the league; the Dodgers aren't far behind at number three. And both teams have an exuberant amount of talent. Boston employs the likely AL MVP Mookie Betts, elite power hitting All-Star J.D. Martinez, and one of the league's most dominant starters, Chris Sale. The Dodgers boast All-Stars Justin Turner and Manny Machado, and future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, as well as an incredible amount of position player depth. Long story short, it'd take an exceptionally poor manager to screw up either team.

But Cora and Roberts have not simply rode their players' coattails. Throughout the postseason, they've both made smart decisions, such as Cora inserting utility man Brock Holt into the lineup in Game 3 of the ALDS (Holt went four for six with five RBIs and hit for the cycle in a 16-1 romp) or Roberts handing the ball to his closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the NLCS.

The latter is a fine example of Roberts' nuanced game management. If the Dodgers have a weak spot, it's their middle relief corps. So, in Game 7, despite holding a seemingly comfortable four-run lead with two outs in the seventh, Roberts was taking no chances. With Milwaukee's best hitters — Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, and Ryan Braun — due up, he made the call for Jansen, who struck out Curtis Granderson to finish the seventh, and then retired the aforementioned trio in dominant fashion in the eighth. Kershaw, who pitched brilliantly as the Game 5 starter, came in the following inning and closed out the game.

Instead of saving his closer for the ninth, as tradition dictates, Roberts based his strategy on matchups. The eighth inning, under those circumstances, was the one more likely to swing the game. This is not a brand new way of thinking, for Roberts or for baseball, but it highlights his willingness to play each game on its own terms.

Cora has had a slightly more straightforward path to the Fall Classic than his counterpart, but he's maintained a proactive strategy, including continually pulling his starters at the right time and maximizing his bullpen (which, similarly to Los Angeles, is the Red Sox's only possible flaw) by bringing starters like Sale, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi into late-game, short-inning situations on their rest days in order to keep the potent lineups of New York and Houston at bay.

Roberts and Cora aren't the only ones who are revamping the manager's role. A.J. Hinch won the World Series with the Astros last year while aggressively managing his bullpen. Tampa Bay's Kevin Cash successfully utilized "openers" full-time this season, turning the Rays into one of the scariest teams in the league by the end of September. Roberts' NLCS opponent, Craig Counsell, went toe to toe with his Dodger counterpart throughout the series. And it's not just the kids. Baseball lifers Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, who faced each other in the World Series two years ago, (with the Cubs and Indians, respectively) deserve credit for pioneering this approach.

What defines the best of the new crop of managers, led by Cora and Roberts, is flexibility. Unlike the skippers who leave starters in for too long or turn the ball over to weak relievers in pivotal moments, these managers know how to maximize matchups to their advantage. But they also do not stick to any script unflinchingly — indeed, when one of their starters looked strong in the previous rounds, like David Price in Boston's ALCS clincher, or Kershaw in Game 5 of the NLCS, Cora and Roberts were content to let the veterans stay on the mound. These two managers don't serve as soulless figureheads for analytically driven front office regimes, nor do they flinch at the very mention of data. Rather, they understand that success in baseball requires a commitment to both the advanced numbers and the intangibles.

Obviously anything can happen on baseball's biggest stage. Roberts could overextend his bullpen. Cora could err when squeezing Martinez, his designated hitter, into the lineup at Dodger Stadium. But if recent history is indicative, this World Series should be a grandmasters chess match.