Boston Red Sox: Who gets the ball in a win-or-go-home scenario?

Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox playoff race is coming right down to the wire. The American League Wild Card race has been one of the most entertaining in all of baseball, and it is set for a hectic finish over the next four days.

Heading into tonight’s series finale against the Baltimore Orioles, the Sox find themselves sitting in the second wild card spot currently. They are a game behind the New York Yankees, while they hold just a half game lead on the Seattle Mariners, and a one game lead on the Toronto Blue Jays. Only adding to the chaos is the fact the Blue Jays and Yankees are set to finish an extremely important series tonight as well.

Depending on how these last few games of the season go, the Sox could find themselves playing in another tiebreaker game just to get to the Wild Card game. They also could find themselves watching the playoffs from home too. Ultimately it’s all hypothetical right now, but the team needs to be planning for the possibility of a win-or-go-home game popping up on their schedule in a few days.

The Red Sox are going to have to win a very important game if their season is going to continue deep into October. A key piece in extending the season will be deciding who gets the ball with the season on the line, and it could end up determining whether Boston plays postseason baseball, or watches from their couches.

Who gets the ball for the Boston Red Sox in a win-or-go-home game?

It’s very clear that the Red Sox would like to run out either Chris Sale or Nathan Eovaldi with their season on the line. Everyone else in their rotation has struggled with consistency, and these two guys are clearly the best arms the Sox have on their roster.

While it may seem clear cut that Sale should be the go-to-guy, it may not be that simple. Sale has looked like his old self since making his return to the mound in August (5-1, 2.90 ERA, 45 K), but he has struggled to make it deep into his outings. Sometimes it’s been because Sox coach Alex Cora doesn’t want to push it with Sale’s arm, but Sale has only managed to make it through six innings once in his eight starts this season.

On the other hand, Eovaldi has been about as consistent as they come this season, especially down the home stretch of the season. He’s only picked up one win for his record, but the Sox have won seven of Eovaldi’s last eight starts. Eovaldi has been Boston’s best starter for the majority of the season, and he may be the guy Cora turns to with the season on the line.

Sale and Eovaldi’s most recent starts show why it may not be set in stone for Sale to be the go-to-guy in this situation. Sale was cruising through the first five innings before he ran into trouble in the sixth. He ended up giving up three runs in the inning, and took his first loss of the season.

It was a tough-luck loss for Sale, but as the ace of Boston’s rotation, he has to be expected to shut down an awful Baltimore lineup when called upon. Sure, the offense didn’t do him any favors by giving him just a two run lead, but Sale is good enough to prevent the Orioles offense from scoring off of him. The fact that he was unable to do so is a little bit concerning.

On the other hand, Eovaldi did exactly what was expected of Sale. He cruised through six shutout innings, and kept Baltimore’s lineup at bay throughout the contest. The Sox lineup got off to another slow start, but Eovaldi didn’t let Baltimore get any runs, and they were eventually able to find their swings and put the game to rest.

Eovaldi also has done a good job at going deep into games. He’s made it through at least six innings in four of his last eight starts, which is huge considering the struggles Boston’s bullpen has endured in the second half of the season. Without a real closer, the Boston Red Sox are going to need all the innings they can get from their starters if they want to win games in the postseason.

As of right now, Sale is tentatively lined up to face the Washington Nationals in the final game of the regular season. Of course, this plan isn’t set in stone, as Boston could have already locked up a spot or fallen out of contention by then. But if there is something to be played for on Sunday, Sale will most likely be the guy taking the mound for that occasion.

Assuming Boston would qualify for a wild card spot or find themselves in a tiebreaker game, that would leave Eovaldi as the guy to go there. This season has really been all about Eovaldi’s development into a consistent starting presence, and it almost feels right that the fate of the Boston Red Sox season would fall on his shoulders.

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But this isn’t the time for storybook endings. The Sox need to make the right decisions with their pitching staff if they are going to be play meaningful baseball in October. The decision between Sale and Eovaldi is one that could be the deciding factor on this team’s fate.

Sale seems like the safe option in that you know you are going to get an efficient performance from him, it’s just a matter of how long he can last. Eovaldi has more upside in that he’s been able to reach seven innings on multiple occasions this season, which would be huge in a winner take all game.

Whoever ends up with the ball in this situation, assuming the team makes it there, will have the Boston Red Sox season in their hands. It’s up to them to decide whether or not this team will have a chance to erase their second half struggles by playing some solid baseball in the postseason.