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OTM Roundtable: Who should start a potential Wildcard Game?

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Pretend they’ll have a choice if they do make it.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

So, today is a good reminder of a little bit of inside info on how these roundtables work. In order to give people the whole week to respond rather than needing it in just a few hours, I hand out the questions early in the week, typically on Monday. Generally I am able to find some question that will still be applicable on Friday, but sometimes things change. Things haven’t totally changed for the Red Sox, who are still very much alive in the postseason race and in fact own a share of a spot as we sit here right now. That said, it’s looking pretty much impossible for them to be in a place where they can choose their Wildcard Game starter if they even make it that far.

I bring that up because, well, this week’s question is: If they have a choice, who should the Red Sox start for the Wildcard Game if they make it?

Michael Walsh

This is a tough one, but I’d still pick Nathan Eovaldi to start in a potential wildcard game. He definitely didn’t look the part against the Yankees in his most recent outing, but I think it’s unwise to let one outing change my perception of him. Not only has he been the Red Sox’ best starter this year, he’s also accumulated the fourth most pitching fWAR in the major leagues, which ties him with Gerrit Cole and places him ahead of Walker Buehler in that category. Eovaldi’s having an outstanding season, and he’s been instrumental in leading the Sox back to the playoffs. He deserves the ball in the wildcard game.

Scott Neville

I’ve been on the Chris Sale side of this argument for a while now. I’m very confident Chris Sale would throw five or six great innings. Eovaldi has a chance of going seven or eight innings but is way more of a hit or miss pitcher. The safest way to go in my opinion would be to stack Sale and Whitlock to get through the seventh and maybe even eighth. That last inning or two is terrifying but that is not related to this week’s question. I also wouldn’t hate the idea of both Sale and Eovaldi pitching in the Wild Card game with Rodriguez starting game one of the ALDS. If Eovaldi only pitched one or two innings that would still lineup those three for an ALDS rotation with Pivetta becoming a swingman.

Bayleigh Von Schneider

Regardless of who the Red Sox would face in a potential Wildcard Game, Nate Eovaldi should get the nod in the Wildcard game. Nate Eovaldi has a FIP of 2.84, slightly worse than Gerrit Cole’s 2.83. (Stats from earlier in the week.) Nate Eovaldi is good, and Nate Eovaldi hardly ever allows the same team to beat him twice. If the Red Sox are to face the Yankees in the Wildcard game, Eovaldi should get the start. If Eovaldi is to pitch six strong innings, the Red Sox should honestly use Tanner Houck to shut down the final three innings. Nasty Nate for six, and Houck’s slider for three, and that could very well lock up a win for the Red Sox and saves Chris Sale and the bullpen for game one of the ALDS.

Shelly Verougstraete

My pick for starter for the Wild Card game is Nathan Eovaldi and if we are being honest, the pick surprised me. I mean, we finally have Chris Sale back! However, Eovaldi has been their ace this year and has been super reliable. Even with his latest implosion against the Yankees, I still trust him. When it comes to Sale, he hasn’t looked vintage Chris Sale, which I totally understand. He is making his return from Tommy John and COVID, which is no easy task. I have full confidence in him going into next year but Eovaldi deserves the ball in the Wild Card game.

Keaton DeRocher

Option number 1 is Chris Sale. He’s your table setter, he sets the tone and he’s your best pitcher. However, given that he’s lined up to pitch game 162 at the moment if you need that game he has to pitch it. So back-up option would be Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi’s last outing aside he’s been pretty darn good down the stretch here for the Red Sox. I also feel that his recent implosion was more of a ‘baseball is weird and it just happened’ kind of thing vs exhaustion from the innings he’s racked up after a short season. I still have a ton of confidence in him if he’s the man. However, should he struggle it should be a short leash to Garrett Richards and Tanner Houck.

Brendan Campbell

Assuming the Red Sox will be playing in the Wild Card game on Tuesday, I believe Nathan Eovaldi would give Boston the best chance to win and should therefore be starting that game regardless of opponent. Chris Sale may seem like an obvious choice to start, but there are two concerns I have had with Sale since he made his return from Tommy John surgery in August. For one, the left-hander is averaging just a little more than five innings per start through his first eight outings of the season. Secondly, he has fared far worse when going up against an opposing lineup a second (.831 OPS against) or third time (.819 OPS against) as opposed to the first time (.596 OPS against) through.

Eovaldi on the other hand, has been averaging just under six innings of work over his last 10 starts dating back to August 11, and that includes the dud in which he lasted just 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees last weekend. On top of that, the right-hander has a better track record this season when it comes to facing the same hitters multiple times in the same game.

So, having said all that, whether it be against the Yankees, Blue Jays, or Mariners, I would roll with Eovaldi in the Wild Card game, though I suppose he could start a potential tie-breaking Game 163 if that’s what it came down to.

Mike Carlucci

If there’s one thing we know about this Red Sox team it’s that it’s unpredictable. The offense could score a dozen runs or one. The starting pitcher could be brilliant or terrible. The bullpen, now free of Whitlock and an effective Barnes, is a tossup. That’s why I’d take Nathan Eovaldi. He’s the best starter on the team and can give the most innings. In a single elimination game like the Wildcard all hands are on deck. Which is why if Eovaldi can only make it four or five innings I go straight to Garrett Richards or Chris Sale. Maybe look at the matchup. Maybe look at the innings (more than 3, go straight to Sale). Keep the relievers out of it if possible. This saves Eduardo Rodriguez for the next game and Tanner Houck is also capable of making a start or at least half a start and you hope that Eovaldi, Richards, or Sale can back him up. The longer the Red Sox go in the postseason the more stressful it will be given the lineup. So let’s start with Nasty Nate and go from there!

Phil Neuffer

My gut instinct was to go with Chris Sale in this spot, but I think Nathan Eovaldi might actually make more sense. Eovaldi has been the Red Sox’s best pitcher from start to finish this season and although Sale has been good since coming back, he hasn’t gone deep into games very often and he’s only had two outings in which he’s allowed fewer than two earned runs. Eovaldi has proven capable of going deep into games and although his ERA is higher than Sale’s, his expected ERA and FIP are both superior to the left-hander’s.

If the Red Sox’s bullpen was at full strength, then I’d be more inclined to go with Sale, but with Garrett Whitlock and Josh Taylor still on the injured list, having a guy like Eovaldi who could potentially dominate for seven or eight innings could keep the Red Sox from having to go too deep into the pen. Of course, there really isn’t a wrong answer, although it seems likely Eovaldi would get the call if the Red Sox qualify for the postseason since Sale is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. In addition, no matter who the Red Sox choose, it will be all hands on deck, so it is possible we’ll see both Eovaldi and Sale pitch. Before we can do that, however, the Red Sox have to make the playoffs, so let’s worry about who will pitch in the wildcard game later.

Bob Osgood

With the number of moving parts each day between the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Mariners, it’s impossible to know whether the Sox will be able to line up their staff entirely for a Wild Card game, need to empty the tank for a previous Game 163, or not be playing past Sunday at all. In the scenario that everyone is available, I am giving the ball to Chris Sale to start. He may not be going deep into games but with exactly 2 BB/9, he has not run into the command issues that many pitchers returning from Tommy John encounter. The only one of his eight outings that Sale allowed more than two earned runs was his most recent, and the third run was an inherited runner scoring on some shaky defense.

After Sale, the Red Sox may not have an elite bullpen for a lengthy series, but for one game they’ll have multi-inning options available at the first sign of trouble like Garrett Whitlock (1.99 ERA), Tanner Houck (3.80 ERA), and even Garrett Richards (1.93 ERA since moving to the bullpen). Alex Cora won’t hesitate to go to a starting pitcher on his side day in the playoffs either, as we learned in 2018. Hansel Robles hasn’t allowed a run in his last 13 outings and Austin Davis hasn’t allowed a run in 12 of his last 13 outings. Just don’t ask me who the closer is from that bunch.

Avery Hamel

In a potential Wild Card start, I would be most comfortable with the Sox putting out Nathan Eovaldi. After a rough couple of starts over the past month, Eovaldi bounced back against the Orioles, racking up seven strikeouts while only giving out one free pass and allowing four hits in 6.0 IP. Even against the bottom-of-the-pack Orioles, these are still impressive numbers that hope to guarantee the playoff version of the Eovaldi we’ve come to know in 2021. This season, Eovaldi boasts his career lowest FIP, career highest K/9 in a normal season, his 2020 total was 0.05 points higher than this year’s mark, and a career-high in bWAR (4.6). MLB-wide, Eovaldi holds the lowest BB/9 (1.728), third lowest HR/9, and third-lowest FIP. Collecting this career-high of 4.6 bWAR, Eovaldi holds the fourth-highest such mark for pitchers in the American League.

All in all, Eovaldi has more than earned this honor, and with this career display, Sox fans should be happy with the prospect of Eovaldi leading this team into the playoffs, granted that they can muster the production to get there.

Brady Childs

So before I was going to pen this response it looked like the Sox might have a say in who they started. They might not anymore! As of now, Chris Sale is lined up to start a game 162 which works out because he’d be my choice to for any winner-take-all affair. I trust Sale going six more than any other pitcher on this staff, including Eovaldi, even if recent results indicate otherwise. I’m looking to strike the high side of variance here and I have more confidence in Sale making further strides in his recovery to shut down the Yankees than Eovaldi. I’m riding or dying with my ace on that hill if given the chance. If it’s anyone other than Sale and Eovaldi, Aceves help us.