The first thing to know about this whole discussion is that it’s all academic. The question of who should potentially start the single wild card playoff game is really going to come down to how hard the Sox have to charge to get there in the first place, not what they’d do if they had their druthers. This is all just a thought experiment.
The thought experiment, as you can glean from the headline, regards Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi. It has been percolating in the Twitters recently and Matt and I talked about it on this week’s Over the Monster podcast. It is a very simple thought experiment: If the Sox had a choice, who would start the one-game playoff, Sale or Eovaldi?
Before I answer this, though you already know my answer, let me again stress that this is a purely hypothetical question in which you are choosing between both guys at their September 2021 full strength, which is not the situation the Sox are likely to find themselves in come October. They will almost certainly have to scratch and claw their way into the playoff game in the first place, should they make it at all, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for lining these things up. With the way this season’s going there’s a decent chance the last regular season game is effectively itself a one-game playoff, so you’d have all hands on deck only to follow, in the event of a win, with whatever hands remain.
So again: Hypothetical.
The case for Eovaldi is that he’s been the Sox’s best pitcher on the year and has been particularly good recently. Squint the right way—and oh boy, do we have a lot of squinters in our midst—and he’s a Cy Young Award candidate. Which is pretty neat, and he’ll get some votes, but Rick Porcello won the damn thing as the Sox’s number three starter, so that alone doesn’t mean much. Also Sale hasn’t won one despite being a top-five pitcher on the planet for nearly a decade, the latter fact being extremely salient to this discussion and to which we shall return shortly.
There is, of course, the argument that with Sale still working into form after his return from Tommy John surgery, and the optimal situation for any single game would be an Eovaldi start with a Sale relief appearance. If the schedule lines up in such a way that it’s more convenient to have Nate start a wild card game, this is exactly what you’d expect to see, and I think we’d all live with it.
But there’s this pesky matter of the thought experiment being about who would start a single game all things being equal, not what the Sox would do if they had to make lemonade. And in that case the answer is Sale because he’s Chris Sale.
As the headline helpfully indicates, Sale is better than Eovaldi. Among the people who know this are Sale and Eovaldi and Alex Cora and really anyone with functioning eyes or ears. It’s as simple as 2+2=4, and while it’s not the whole story in this instance, it’s still just math. You can’t argue with it.
The only actual objection to picking Sale over Eovaldi in a neutral situation, as far as I can tell, is that with Sale still returning from injury he might not be ready to go deep into a game. My objection would be that the whole reason they brought him back so slowly was to have him firing at full strength come playoff time, and given that I’m right about this, it sort of ends the discussion.
So that’s really it. I love Eovaldi and expect both dudes to pitch in a single game playoff if they’re both available, but I’d start Sale because he’s better. Games this like are the whole reason he’s around, so he should start. Good talk.