The Red Sox are in a very good position for the wildcard race, and while it’s certainly not at all wrapped up they are in the driver’s seat and more or less control their own destiny. They certainly deserve a good chunk of the credit, as they are playing good baseball at an important time, but the schedule makers also did them a favor. As we’ve already talked about here as well, it’s not just the quality of competition — four of their last five series are against teams with a losing record — but it’s also about the number of days off they have mixed in there.
As we discussed in that linked post, that is a huge boon specifically for this Red Sox team. There’s a few reasons for that and we discuss them in that post, but perhaps the biggest is the ability to shorten the rotation and maximize the number of starts from the best starters. However, after winning six in a row and with a huge weekend series against the Yankees coming up, there isn’t total agreement with how they should line things up in their rotation the rest of the way.
Tonight, Wednesday, is a prime example of the potential conflict of ideas on how to utitlize the days off and maximize the rotation. Chris Sale is set to start this game against the Mets, something Alex Cora made official on Tuesday. The decision has been made, so we’re not really here to talk about what could or could not happen, but rather just talk through what the decision process was like. It feels like a thought process worth digging into a little more deeply, because there is an argument on both sides.
Essentially, the argument boils down to giving Sale the maximum amount of starts versus doing everything possible to put yourself in the best position to win the maximum number of games in that Yankees series. It is certainly not unreasonable to hold the latter position. New York trails Boston by two games as of Wednesday, and this weekend is going to be a big pivot point in this race. But with that said, there are a few different reasons that Sale making the start on Wednesday against the Mets is the right call from Alex Cora, at least in this writer’s opinion.
The main point is certainly the one made above, the crux of the linked post at the top of this article. The Red Sox should be doing everything they can to maximize the number of starts from their best pitchers, which in this case are obviously Sale and Nathan Eovaldi. It would be great if that also lined up both guys to pitch against the Yankees, but that’s not how this particular cookie crumbled. If Sale were pushed back to Friday, he’d make one fewer start the rest of the way. The Yankees series is obviously important, but most important is for the Red Sox to win the most games the rest of the way, full stop. Getting Sale to start as many of those games as possible is obviously the best way to do that.
I do, however, think there are a couple of other compelling points in favor of this Cora decision as well, and they stem from his last start. Sale got the job done last time out against the Orioles, but he did it in a very un-Sale way. His strikeout stuff was not there and his fastball velocity was down, so he got by more on pitching to contact. It’s great that it worked, but he may not have that same level of success when facing a non-Orioles lineup. And so it makes sense to get him as much work as possible to build that arm back up and get him ready for the postseason.
And along those same lines, are we totally convinced that Sale is the best pitcher to face the Yankees right now? I mean, he probably is because he’s still Chris Sale, but as alluded to above the stuff he had in his last start might not work as well against a lineup like the Yankees. The additions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo certainly diversified the lineup a bit more, but they are still a team with a scary amount of right-handed power. He’s still probably the best option, but based on his last start at this given moment the gap might not be as large as one might think.
(And as a quick aside, for whatever it’s worth, I don’t really buy into the theory that the Red Sox should avoid starting Sale against the Yankees in case they meet in the Wildcard Game in order to keep some mystery alive. The Yankees are plenty familiar with Sale either way.)
But somewhat contradictory to that last point, I also do think that we shouldn’t underestimate the Mets lineup. They have underachieved a bit at times this year without a doubt, but it’s also not the kind of lineup you just take for granted. Pete Alonso is one of the best sluggers in baseball. Francisco Lindor got off to a brutal start but his season has turned around and he’s still one of the better players in the game. Javy Báez goes hot and cold, but he can do as much damage as anybody. This lineup has plenty of talent, so it’s not exactly wasting a Sale start to get him out of there.
Ultimately, I think if you were to poll fans and people who care about this sort of thing, the majority would come down on the side outlined here and the side that Cora ultimately came down on. But there are people who have expressed a desire for Sale to be held back to face the Yankees. I don’t think it’s a ridiculous proposal in the least, but at the end of the day it just makes the most sense to give Sale the maximum amount of runway for the rest of the year, both to get him at the level he needs to be and just try and win the most baseball games as possible down the stretch regardless of opponent.