The 2021 MLB regular season is rapidly coming to a close, and the AL Wild Card race is still a four-team logjam.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how the race is going to play out, but if the season were to end today, the Boston Red Sox would travel to Yankee Stadium for a date with the New York Yankees in the Wild Card matchup.
The Red Sox did themselves a favor last night by getting back on track with a win over the Baltimore Orioles, and after the game, manager Alex Cora made a pretty big announcement.
Alex Cora confirms that if there’s a Wild Card game, Nathan Eovaldi would start for the Red Sox.
— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) September 30, 2021
If the Red Sox find themselves in the Wild Card Game, they’ll be giving the ball to Nathan Eovaldi with the season on the line.
Here are some takeaways.
It Has Been An Underrated Year For Eovaldi
Eovaldi has been Boston’s most reliable starting pitcher all year long.
The righty has a solid 3.75 ERA over 32 starts, but he has actually been even better than that number suggests.
He has league-bests in FIP (2.78), home runs allowed per nine innings (0.7), and walks allowed per nine innings (1.7).
He has 195 strikeouts over 182.1 frames of work, and he also has an impressive 4.7 WAR.
He made his final regular-season start on Wednesday and tossed six shutout innings.
That was a great way for the 31-year-old to wrap up his campaign.
Nathan Eovaldi had 20 starts this season with 2 ER or fewer. Confirmed good.
— Steve Perrault (@Steve_Perrault) September 30, 2021
Although he won’t actually win the award, fans shouldn’t be surprised if Eovaldi pops up on some Cy Young ballots.
Is Eovaldi A Big-Game Pitcher?
The Red Sox are clearly confident giving the ball to Eovaldi in a massive spot.
And when you look at his track record in big games, it’s easy to understand why.
The veteran was a crucial part of Boston’s run to the 2018 World Series title.
In those playoffs, he was lights-out.
In total, he pitched to a 1.61 ERA, 2.71 FIP, and .449 opponent OPS.
He also had one of the best relief appearances in World Series history.
October 26, 2018
Nathan Eovaldi (6.0 IP – 1 ER – 5 K) saves the Red Sox pitching staff by pitching 6 gutsy innings of relief in Game 3 of the World Series in a game that lasted 18 innings
I don’t even remember who won the game but I remember who won the Series pic.twitter.com/R1U9YjXqvI
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) October 26, 2020
There’s no telling if the Red Sox would have won the World Series that year without him.
Boston needs to get to the Wild Card Game before anything else happens, but the team would be a tough out in a potential single-elimination matchup with Eovaldi on the bump.
What About Chris Sale?
When Cora announced Wednesday that Eovaldi would start a potential Wild Card Game, a lot of fans were stunned not to hear Chris Sale’s name.
Sale has had a good year since returning from Tommy John surgery, and many folks still consider him to be Boston’s staff ace.
The lefty has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all eight of his starts this season.
But clearly, the Red Sox feel better about Eovald at this juncture (all things considered).
There’s really no wrong choice between the two guys, and maybe Sale could even play a role in the Wild Card Game out of the bullpen.
But it’s certainly an interesting decision, and it would probably be a different story If Sale hadn’t missed the first four months of the season.