The Red Sox, as of this writing on Monday night, have not yet named an Opening Day starter. (With my luck they will make the announcement between the time of writing and the time of publish while I’m away from the interwebs.) This is not something I had noticed until it was brought to my attention by Twitter user Red Sox en bref. For some teams, there is a lot of intrigue around who will get the ball on Opening Day, but that’s not really the case for the Red Sox. Generally speaking, the best pitcher on the staff gets the ball for the first game of the year. Chris Sale is the best pitcher on the Red Sox. No one would argue that. At least I hope no one would argue that. If you would argue that, please keep it to yourself. Anyway, it’s a foregone conclusion that Sale will start the first game of the year for the Red Sox. Except....well....what if it isn’t? Or what if it shouldn’t be? I’m not entirely sure even I believe the argument I’m going to lay out, but I think you can reasonably argue that the Red Sox ace shouldn’t get the most high-profile early-season start for the team.
The argument, really, is pretty simple. Opening Day feels like an important game, but really it’s just a big ceremony to celebrate the return of baseball. Remember Opening Day 2018? When the Red Sox bullpen imploded in amazing fashion and blew a late lead? The bad feelings from that game clearly didn’t last. The game itself matters no more than any other individual game. So, it stands to reason that the starter for that game should be a ceremonial nod more than an acknowledgement of strategy, too. If you go by that way of thinking, both Nathan Eovaldi and David Price have better arguments to get the call on Opening Day than Sale. I started thinking about this on Sunday, and was admittedly bummed to find out Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald had beaten me to the punch.
Nathan Eovaldi is probably the most logical choice if you’re going with a ceremonial approach to naming the starter. The righty is probably the face of the team’s run to the World Series even if he didn’t win either the ALCS or World Series MVP trophies. Eovaldi did everything that was asked of him and was utterly dominant whenever he was called upon, and as Mastrodonato points out his most famous appearance actually ended in a loss. Alex Cora and many of the players have pointed to his absurd Game Three appearance as one that brought the team together and helped them win the next two games to clinch a championship. His new four-year contract was a nice reward for that, but adding on an Opening Day start would be nice too.
David Price has an interesting case to be made as well. The southpaw doesn’t have the same kind of single-game performance at which we can point from last year, but his overall career arc with the Red Sox has been amazing. Obviously he has not always been a fan favorite, from his struggles (relative to his contract) in 2016 to the Eckersley issues in 2017 to the Yankees implosions last year. Price has heard a lot of criticism from Red Sox fans as well as the fans from around the league, largely for his inability to perform in the postseason. He turned that narrative on his head last October and arguably deserved the World Series MVP. Price has been through a lot in his three years with the organization and an Opening Day nod would be a nice touch on how far he’s come.
Then, there’s the Chris Sale argument, which is the most straight forward of all. Sale is the best pitcher on the Red Sox, and he wasn’t without his postseason moment. The man threw the last pitch of the World Series and ended the championship run with a strikeout of Manny Machado. That’s a pretty good case! Pitchers of Sale’s caliber expect to get the ball on Opening Day, and going against the grain could rub some the wrong way. If Cora did go in another direction I would suspect it’d come with Sale’s blessing, but it’s worth considering how upset Felix Hernández is about nod getting the nod for Seattle. Sale is a little better than 2019 Hernández, too.
Right now, with the starting pitchers just starting to get in-game work this week — Sale started a minor-league game on Monday, Price is scheduled for Tuesday and Eovaldi is scheduled for Wednesday — Eovaldi is lined up for Opening Day. I wouldn’t read a ton into that, as schedules can easily be changed and extra days off can be given. Still, that’s worth keeping in mind. Still, I think the most likely scenario is Sale getting the start. The best pitchers get the Opening Day start almost every time. However, if it was up to me, I’d give Price the first game of the year and Eovaldi the first game at Fenway. Sale may be the best pitcher on the staff, but Price has been through enough to earn the ceremonial nod and Eovaldi did enough in October to deserve the first Fenway cheer of 2019. I’ve officially talked myself into this take.