Every sport says their playoffs are the most chaotic — except for the NBA, I guess, but they have their own draws — but baseball’s truly is it’s own, unique beast. With such a small number of games deciding things after such a long season, truly anything can happen. All of this is just to say that the Red Sox certainly have a real chance at winning this ALDS against the Astros. Houston is certainly the favorite to win no matter which source you check, and they absolutely deserve to be. That being said, the Red Sox obviously have a chance at winning. Any team has a chance at winning any series at any time, and the Red Sox are a very talented team to boot. There are a lot of ways Boston can win, and we’ll get into more of those over the next couple days, but the number one key is Chris Sale. He is the one weapon the Astros don’t have — Justin Verlander is outstanding, but he’s no Sale -- and if he pitches like he’s capable of the Red Sox have a huge advantage in two of the five games right out of the gate.
Of course, there is some cause for concern with Sale right now. As he’s done often throughout his career, the lefty has struggled a bit over the final month of the season. The general consensus is that this is because he’s starting to wear down, and that’s a theory as good as any. Whatever the reason, he’s been much more inconsistent of late as he’s allowed at least four runs in five of his last 11 starts. These recent struggles have some concerned about his potential playoff performance -- remember, he’s never pitched in the postseason before -- and it’s valid. However, other than the fact that he’s Chris Damn Sale, there is reason to believe he is in for a great Game One, at least.
To put it simply, Sale is going to be on a whole lot of rest heading into Thursday’s game in Houston. He’ll have been off for the past eight days, making that the second time he’s gotten that much rest this season. The other, of course, was coming out of the All-Star Break. All he did in that game was toss 7 2⁄3 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts and two walks against a dynamic Yankees lineup. (The Red Sox actually lost that game, but let’s ignore that part.)
Sale has been this good on long rest throughout his career, too. The lefty has made 24 career starts with at least six days of rest going into the outing — this includes Opening Days, for what it’s worth — and he has a 1.88 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 34 walks in 167 2⁄3 innings. To look at things another way, he has a 29 percent strikeout rate and a five percent walk rate in these outings. To put it yet another way, he has allowed hitters to slash just .214/.265/.292 in these outings. Among the 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings on six-plus days of rest since 2010, only Clayton Kershaw has allowed a lower OPS to his opponents. If you’re curious, Justin Verlander is 21st on this list with a .646 OPS that is tied with David Price.
While this has been about Sale on longer rest and how well that bodes for him and the Red Sox, I want to make it clear that this is not an argument against him starting Game Four. If the Red Sox trail the series 2-1 at that point, I would absolutely be on board with him coming back and keeping the Red Sox from being eliminated.
Boston doesn’t have a whole lot of edges in this series, but if everyone is playing to their full capabilities they do have one in the ace department. The Red Sox need Sale to be at his best in this series, and fortunately all signs point towards him being able to do just that in Game One. The Red Sox ace is scary for his opponents under any circumstance. On Thursday, Sale is going to be on extra rest, and if his career is any indication that is a very good thing for the Red Sox and a very bad thing for the Astros.