On Sunday, in the midst of the Red Sox’ Game 2 win at Fenway, we found out that Chris Sale had been admitted to Mass General Hospital with a stomach illness. He did travel to Houston and was with the team during their Game 3 victory on Tuesday. It seemed that everything was good, and things were going to go according to plan despite the hiccup. Well, that’s no longer the case. According to Buster Olney, and later confirmed by Alex Cora himself, Chris Sale won’t be making his scheduled start for Game 5 of this series. Instead, they are planning on him being ready to start Game 6 if one is necessary.
Chris Sale won’t pitch Game 5; Game 6 at the earliest. Still feels weak from issue that put him in the hospital— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 17, 2018
According to Cora, Sale was still feeling weak when he arrived at the park on Wednesday, and he was unable to throw his scheduled bullpen. This illness has essentially put him two days behind schedule, and the Red Sox just didn’t want to push him. It sounds like he should be a go for Game 6, though it also sounded like he’d be a go for Game 5. We really don’t know on these things until we know.
As for who will start in Sale’s place, well, we don’t know! They do have some options, though obviously none of them are as appealing as Chris Sale. Cora named a few specifically, with David Price, Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez being the options. Price would theoretically be the closest thing to Sale, but he’d also be on three days rest. He’s obviously had his postseason issues throughout his career and hasn’t really looked great this October either, so I’d be hesitant to start him on short rest.
If it were up to me, I’d go with a bullpen day and look to Eduardo Rodriguez to hopefully give some length. Really, I’d go with the opener strategy that was utilized by the Rays all year. Since the Astros have all that right-handed firepower at the top of their lineup — their top four hitters are all righties in Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Yuli Gurriel — I’d use a right-handed reliever for the first four outs then turn things over to Rodriguez. He’d still have to face that group at least once, but this would allow him to give maximum length while minimizing how often he’d have to see the big righties. Kelly would be my choice as an opener.
Of course, this is also dependent on what happens in Wednesday’s game. As Cora said in his pregame press conference, they are all-in on winning this game, as they should be. Going up 3-1 in this series would be huge, and it would allow them to feel better about avoiding Price on three days rest and getting him fully rested back at Fenway. So, even though my preference would be the opener strategy outlined above, that shouldn’t stop them from using Rodriguez if necessary or using Kelly for a longer outing that would make him unavailable on Thursday. Win the game in front of you, then worry about the next one after that.