By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
(DISCLAIMER: This is all predicated on playing Cleveland only, as it currently appears very likely to be the eventual scenario)
Game One: Chris Sale
Despite this appearing to be a “no brainer,” I have my concerns. There is actually plenty of conventional wisdom as to why it might not be a great idea to give Chris Sale this start in game one. For one, he’s 5-7 lifetime against the Indians, whom he used to see very regularly while with the AL Central’s Chicago White Sox. His career ERA against Cleveland is 4.44 ERA (was 4.05 prior to his last start vs. CLE). They have his number. Cleveland is one of the best lefty hitting teams in MLB.
It was easy to defy conventional logic in 2016 to give Rick Porcello a game one start. He had cruised to the Cy Young with a dominant second half, and had a propensity to pitch deep into games. David Price was a bonafide ace, but his notorious 0-7 record as a starting pitcher in the playoffs, coupled with his above 5.00 ERA justified moving him to game two. It all ended up being moot, as both players faltered en route to a series sweep.
All things considered, it would be far more consequential to NOT start Sale in game one. Sale has never pitched a single inning in the playoffs, but his stone cold demeanor, and intense focus during the games he does start make him the most viable to handle that moment. He will be taking the mound, hopefully in Fenway Park, as the soon to be Cy Young winner, and undoubtedly will seek to etch his name into Red Sox post season lore.
Game Two: Doug Fister
This won’t be a popular opinion, but I don’t care. Doug Fister has faced the Indians three times in as many weeks. In two out of the three, he was completely dominant, including a one run shutout on Tuesday evening. Unlike Chris Sale, Fister has pitched very well over his career with the Indians. Is it risky to start a struggling veteran in a high stakes game? Absolutely. But every pitcher after Sale in the Red Sox rotation carries risk, and lacks experience in playoff games. I would much rather give credence to a strong recent body of work. Not to mention Fister has a 4-2 playoff record, with solid 2.60 ERA. If Sale manages to win game one, and then Fister goes on to pitch as strongly as he has against Cleveland, the Red Sox will have a quick 2-0 lead in the series. Sometimes the biggest risks are the risks you don’t take. I would risk it with Fister in THIS series. The ALCS might be a different story.
Game Three: Drew Pomeranz
This should not come as a surprise. Drew Pomeranz has greatly exceeded the expectations of everyone. He came to us seeming to be damaged goods based on information that was illegally withheld from Dombrowski when the trade took place. After having stem cell injections into his pitching elbow, so many of us had already written Pomeranz off. Most 28 year old pitchers who have struggled to fall into a defined role never usually find it. Pomeranz is the exception, and he found it in a circus like Boston of all places. Pomeranz has an ERA of 2.61 in his last 17 starts. His strikeout rates are rising. No lineup has proven to be too tough. He does not rattle. And there is no justification whatsoever to NOT include him in any potential playoff situation.
Ironically Pomeranz wears number 31 on his back. Just like the previous pitcher who wore number 31 (Jon Lester), he too can handle the pressure of pitching in Boston, and high leverage situations. If the Red Sox win a World Series in 2017, Drew Pomeranz will be a huge part of it.