Remember when the Red Sox were in desperate search for an eighth inning set-up man? Me neither. During Boston's remarkable run to the World Series, they have used a handful of different pitchers to bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel, including starters Rick Porcello, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.
Early in the ALDS and ALCS, Alex Cora often turned to Porcello in the eighth inning. The right-hander escaped a huge jam in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees, and again came up big in Game 2 of the ALCS against Houston as he recorded two strikeouts and a scoreless eighth inning. In the game Porcello started, Cora showed his aggressiveness and went with Sale in the eighth, who helped close out the Yankees.
But then as Boston had Houston on the ropes in Game 5 of the ALCS, Cora turned to Eovaldi, who had been his best starter in the playoffs, to help eliminate the defending champions. Eovaldi pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings, setting up Kimbrel in the ninth to punch Boston's ticket to the World Series.
Now in the World Series, Cora has been all-in on Eovaldi in the set-up man position, using him in both Game 1 and 2. Both games, Eovaldi has been untouchable, not allowing a hit in two scoreless innings. But now, the Red Sox must turn to Porcello to start Game 3, the game that has been Eovaldi's all postseason in which he's twirled back-to-back gems. So why has Cora used shifted from Porcello to Eovaldi in the pen, knowing it'll delay his best starters start? Velocity.
According to MLB.com's Statcast, Eovaldi's average fastball velocity this playoffs has been one of the three best in the league, sitting at 98.9 mph. His fastball is tough for anybody to hit, especially the Dodgers, who have struggled against high velocity pitchers all season long.
In these playoffs alone, Cody Bellinger, Manny Machado Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Kike Hernandez, Matt Kemp and David Freese are a combined 0-for-27 when an at-bat ends with a pitch at 97 mph or faster, according to MLB.com's Statcast. Including sluggers Justin Turner and Max Muncy, who are a combined 1-9 against the same type of pitches, the Dodgers are a combined 2-for-38 this month facing high velocity.
And it hasn't just been a problem as of late for the Dodgers, as they have struggled against this type of pitching all season. Chris Taylor, Bellinger, Hernandez, Turner, Joc Peterson and Brian Dozier have a combined average of .137 against 97 mph and above since the start of the 2018 season. A drastic difference then the league average of .224.
As Eovaldi has worked back-to-back nights, Porcello will get the ball for Game 3 in Los Angeles. Eovaldi is scheduled to start Game 4, but will he? If the Red Sox lead in the eighth inning of Game 3 with a chance to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, Cora wouldn't be opposed to going Eovaldi to set-up Kimbrel for the save. “You never know. Like I've been saying all along, we're all in every day,” Cora said. “The way it's mapped out, it's Rick [Porcello] in Game 3 and maybe Nate Game 4. But Nate might come in in the eighth again. If we have a chance to be up 3-0 with him on the mound and Craig [Kimbrel], we'll do it. And then we'll figure out Game 4.
“That's the beauty of the playoffs. It's actually fun, because you map out everything over 162 games and you give guys rest and take care of guys. But now it's like pedal to the metal. And whatever happens that day, we'll take it. He's been amazing for us.”
If Eovaldi ends up being unavailable for Game 4, Boston would most likely turn to left handers Eduardo Rodriguez or Drew Pomeranz to start. Both lefties started a handful of games throughout the regular season for the Red Sox, but only Rodriguez has pitched this postseason.
By throwing one of the lefties, Boston would likely force Los Angeles into using their all right-handed lineup they used versus Chris Sale and David Price in the first two games at Fenway. This means the Dodgers would keep left-handed bats Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson on the bench until Boston brought in a right-handed reliever. Those three lead the Dodgers this season with a combined 85 home runs, which has what carried their offense all season.
What happens over the next few games in anyone's guess, by Alex Cora and the Red Sox will continue their all-in approach as it hasn't let them down yet.
Have a question about the Red Sox? Send it to me on Twitter at @iambrianhines