RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Why Eovaldi should start Wild Card game over Sale

RED SOX INSIDER

When the Red Sox were fighting for their playoff lives with half the roster in quarantine, fans comforted themselves thusly: We'll take our chances with Chris Sale vs. Gerrit Cole in a winner-take-all American League Wild Card showdown.

Sounds great. Two of the best pitchers of this generation squaring off in either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park in a successor to the infamous 1978 playoff won by Bucky Bleeping Dent.

Sale's an ace. Cole's an ace. Let's do this.

Except what if there's another pitcher that deserves the ball on Oct. 5? One who not only just earned his first All-Star berth and has anchored the Red Sox rotation all year, but seems to be getting better the deeper we journey into the season?

Maybe Alex Cora should give the ball to Nathan Eovaldi instead.

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Sale may boast the pedigree, but Eovaldi has been nails this season. Since an outlier start on Aug. 6 against the Jays, when he took a shutout into the fifth and left two outs later having allowed seven runs, Eovaldi has done every bit as much to keep the Red Sox afloat as Sale.

Eovaldi may be just 1-1 in his last six starts, but the Red Sox have won five of them, the lone blemish a 2-0 loss to the Yankees in which Eovaldi allowed a pair of solo homers and little else. He's coming off one of his best starts of the season: seven shutout innings vs. the Rays that featured an absolutely filthy slider and pinpoint command.

 

Since Sale returned on Aug. 14, the Red Sox are 4-1 in his five starts. Over that same timeframe, they're also 4-1 in Eovaldi's starts. But the right-hander has been overshadowed by the left-hander.

"Even the one he lost in New York, he was really good," Cora said of Eovaldi. "He's healthy. He's been able to post every five days, and obviously we've given an extra day when we can. And his stuff, it's still really good. He understands this. He's been here before, actually on a bigger stage.

"This is a guy that we count on, we rely on, and his stuff is really good. And the way he prepares is second to none. Every five days, we're going to have him out there, and we feel we will have a chance to win that game."

And that brings us to the Wild Card. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays each have lost 62 games, locked in what is essentially a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots, with the fading A's and resilient Mariners each two games back.

Who starts the Wild Card could come down to venue. If the Red Sox host the Yankees, Eovaldi should get the ball. He's 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA at Fenway Park, and since the trade deadline, the Yankees are hitting just .238 vs. right-handed pitching. If the game is in Yankee Stadium, where New York is hitting just .249 with a .681 OPS against left-handers, then give it to Sale.

Nastier Nate?

Chris Sale's ERA over last 30 days
2.52
Nathan Eovaldi's ERA over last 30 days
1.91

But the case for Eovaldi is about more than batting average and OPS. Whereas Sale was still building his endurance even before being diagnosed with COVID on Friday (which will cost him Sunday's start in Chicago and likely one more), Eovaldi appears to be getting stronger as the season progresses. He has reached the seventh inning in four of his last six starts, including on Wednesday, when the Red Sox desperately needed length in a 2-1 win over the Rays.

For a guy who was once considered a perpetual injury risk, Eovaldi has an outside shot at reaching 200 innings for the first time in his career. His 10-8 record and 3.57 ERA don't begin to describe his value to the Red Sox, which is better reflected by his 4.8 WAR, good for third in the AL.

"It means a lot," Eovaldi said. "There's so many people I could thank right now. Obviously our training staff, our strength coaches, AC, Bushy (pitching coach Dave Bush), they're all monitoring us, making sure they're taking care of us and everything like that. I've been honest with them about how I feel at times and I've been able to stay healthy all year and that's been the main focus."

Add Eovaldi's postseason track record -- he basically earned his $68 million extension off of October 2018 alone -- and Red Sox fans should feel good about their chances in a one-game, winner-take-all showdown no matter whom Cora tabs to start.