Boston Red Sox Wildcard Game Starter: Chris Sale is better than Nathan Eovaldi
The first thing to know about this whole discussion is that it’s all academic. The question of who should potentially start the single-wildcard 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 would do if they had their Druthers. . This is all just a thought experiment.
The thought experiment, as you can see from the title, is about Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi. It leaked on Twitter recently and Matt and I covered it on this week’s Over the Monster podcast. It’s a very simple thought experiment: If the Sox had a choice, who would start the one-game playoffs, Sale or Eovaldi?
Before I answer that, even if you already know my answer, let me stress again that this is a purely hypothetical question where you choose between the two guys at their full strength of September 2021, this which is not the situation the Sox are likely to find themselves in next October. They’ll almost certainly have to scratch and work their way into the playoff game in the first place, if they can, which doesn’t leave much room to line these things up. With the way this season is going, there’s a good chance that the final game of the regular season itself is indeed a playoff game, so you would have all your hands on deck to call, should you win, with the remaining hands.
Eovaldi’s case is that he’s been the Sox’s top pitcher this year, and he’s been particularly good recently. Shady in a good way – and oh my gosh, do we have a lot of shady ones among us – and he’s a Cy Young Award nominee. Which is pretty neat, and he’ll get votes, but Rick Porcello won the damn thing as the Sox’s number three starter, so that alone doesn’t mean much. Plus, Sale hasn’t won any despite being one of the top five pitchers on the planet for almost a decade, the latter fact being extremely important to this discussion and which we’ll come back to shortly.
There is, of course, the argument that Sale is still in good shape after returning from Tommy John’s surgery, and the optimal situation for any match would be an Eovaldi debut with a relief appearance from Dirty. If the timeline lines up in such a way that it’s more convenient for Nate to start a wild card game, that’s exactly what you’d expect to see, and I think we would all live with that.
But there’s that pesky thought experiment question of who would start a single game all things being equal, not what the Sox would do if they had to make lemonade. And in this case, the answer is Sale because it’s Chris Sale.
As the title helpfully suggests, Sale is better than Eovaldi. Among the people who know are Sale and Eovaldi and Alex Cora and really anyone with working eyes or ears. It’s as simple as 2 + 2 = 4, and while that’s not the whole story in this case, it’s just math. You can’t argue with it.
The only real objection to picking Sale over Eovaldi in a neutral situation, as far as I know, is with Sale still coming back from injury, he might not be ready to go deep into a game. My objection would be that the only reason they brought him back so slowly was to have him fire at full power around playoff time, and given that I’m right about that, that sort of ends the discussion.
So this is really it. I love Eovaldi and expect both guys to be in just one playoff game if they are both available, but I would start Sale because he’s better. Games like this are the only reason he’s here, so he should start. Have a good conversation.