LOS ANGELES -- The working assumption immediately following the Red Sox's over the Dodgers is that lefty ace Chris Sale would remain on schedule and start the potential clincher Game 5 on Sunday night. Boston manager Alex Cora, however, made the surprise announcement during his postgame remarks that David Price would start Game 5 of the World Series.
Price started Game 2 back in Boston and threw 13 pitches in relief in Game 3, so he'll be on short rest and then some for Game 5. Prior to Game 4, Cora implied that Price would be available in relief, so that's in some ways a positive sign insofar as his current fatigue level is concerned.
Price is coming off a strong start in Game 2 against the Dodgers and before that an even stronger start against the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS. Cora's obvious confidence in the left-hander and that recent run have buried talk of Price's postseason woes, at least for now. The velocity rebound he's enjoyed since late in the ALCS bodes well, short rest notwithstanding. As well -- and as noted throughout this series -- the Dodgers' offense this season has been much less effective against left-handed pitching, and that's especially the case when the lefty in question has Price's stuff and smarts.
The related matter is the decision to move away from Sale. Sale has struggled with velocity loss and faltering command in recent starts, and of course he dealt with shoulder issues throughout the latter half of the season. Circling back to Cora's presser before Game 4, he was asked about Sale's and Price's status for Saturday night. "Not Chris," he said. "Not Chris."
That sounds emphatic because it was. This could be a simple matter of advance planning being in place, or it could be a hint that Sale is, at the very least, in need of more time off. Whatever ails Sale is obviously not grave enough to merit a roster move, at least yet, but his unavailability out of the pen on three days' rest in Game 4 and then getting bumped from his scheduled Game 5 start run some red flags up the pole. It seems we have four possibilities for Sale moving forward:
- The plan is to "piggyback" a not-quite-right Sale and a short-rest Price in Game 4 -- i.e., go to Sale after getting an abbreviated start out of Price. Most often you do this with pitchers of the opposite hand, but, again, it's best to attack the 2018 Dodgers with lefties.
- The Red Sox want Sale to get extra rest before starting him in a potential Game 6 back in Boston.
- The Red Sox think Sale is presently compromised to the extent that he's best used out of the bullpen over the remainder of the series.
- Sale is hurt, and the Sox are trying to hold off disabling him for as long as possible (this one is, obviously, purely speculative).
At this point, let's note that Cora, soon after declaring that Price would start Game 5, said Sale would start Game 6 if there is one. Of course, he was also tabbed to start Game 5, and as we've seen things change. If the Red Sox lose Game 5 and Sale doesn't pitch out of the pen for any length, then presumably he'll go in Game 6. Sure, we'll go with that for now.
Insofar as Game 5 is concerned, the Sox are better off in the bullpen than you might think given that they'll be just two days removed that 18-inning absurdity. Drew Pomeranz is still available and unused, so he's the obvious long man should such a need arise. Ryan Brasier, one of Cora's go-tos in the postseason, didn't pitch in Game 4. Matt Barnes threw just 11 pitches in Game 4. Yes, he threw more than that in Game 3, and if he appears in Game 5 then that'll make three straight days of work. Barnes, however, did pitch three straight days on one occasion during the regular season, so it's not a foreign concept for him. Heath Hembree did not pitch in Game 5 and has been lightly used this postseason. As noted, it's also possible that Sale is available out of the pen in Game 5. The point is that there's a reasonable path through nine innings for Cora.
As for Price, he's made just two starts on three days' rest in his career. One was back in 2008, and the other was that aforementioned strong outing against the Astros in Game 5 of this year's ALCS. Even within the last two weeks, Price has proved he's capable of shutting down a powerful offense in a Game 5 on the road, on short rest, and with his team one win away from a series triumph. The Red Sox on Sunday will obviously be hoping that recent history is a reliable guide.