It’s important to not lean too hard on hindsight when a team is in the postseason. Firstly, it doesn’t do too much good, and secondly, it’s sometimes less worthwhile than you would think. Should Wilmer Flores have held his swing more? Sure. Maybe. Who cares? Lamonte Wade, Jr. watched strike three in the previous at-bat, so it’s anyone’s guess. However, the dissection of past events can lead to an interesting discussion, and possibly shed light on the intention of a particular decision. For example, you can ask why Bill Buckner missed Mookie Wilson‘s little roller behind the bag, or you can ask why Red Sox manager John MacNamara had him on the field in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. It’s about intention and perspective.
Anyway, let’s talk bout Alex Cora‘s decision to start Chris Sale in Game 1 of the 2021 ALCS.
Chris Sale has simply not looked 100% since coming back from the Injured List late in the season. In reality, the 2021 season will more than likely go down as a lost season for Sale, as he only started pitching in August. In his nine 2021 starts, Sale only managed to pitch six innings once, amassing 42.2 innings pitched by September’s end. Considering that Sale threw 736 pitches in those starts, that means Sale was averaging 17.8 pitching an inning this season. That’s not ideal, considering Sale was already on an incredibly short leash.
In Game 1, it was apparent that Red Sox manager Alex Cora was going to let Sale go as long as he could, but not stretch the team’s left-handed ace. That’s a good plan if you have another pitcher ready to go for longer right behind him. That didn’t happen, and the wheels fell off.
Sale threw 61 pitches in his 2.2 innings of work, and only 37 of those offerings were strikes. That’s not great. Even worse, is that Sale averaged 26 pitches per inning in the series opener, 1.5 times higher than his season average. This cannot be the plan Alex Cora had imagined, and if it was… then boy, oh boy, we’re in for a wild ride.
Cora’s decision to play “Opener or Not” with Sale backfired, and the Red Sox only have themselves to blame. With a 3-1 lead, and Sale struggling as his pitch count ballooned, Cora was forced to make a Chess move. Take out Sale, and then carefully plan out your bullpen usage over the remaining 6.1 innings. Against this Astros lineup, backed by their stellar analytics team, that’s a rough move. José Altuve and Carlos Correa were both hunting pitches when they slammed their game-altering home runs. Why? Because they knew what to look for when Cora made changes.
The moral of the story is this: Alex Cora decided to play Chess against himself, and all the Astros had to do was sit back and pick apart any unforced mistake he may have made.
Was starting Chris Sale in Game 1 a bad decision? No. If this is what Sale needs to get his confidence up after a TOUGH ALDS start, then it was worth it. This is not his fault in the least. But, was not having a backup plan in case he couldn’t go at least four innings a bad idea? Absolutely. Could Cora have gone with Nathan Eovaldi in Game 1 instead of giving him five full days of rest and slating him for Game 2? You bet your boots he could have.
All that to say, if the Red Sox intend on gaining the upper hand in this series, and regain the momentum they lost tonight through no fault of their own, they need to remember this: don’t beat yourself at your own game, because cleverness doesn’t score runs and poor planning gives up home runs.
Starting Chris Sale in Game 1 was a smart move until the Red Sox didn’t know what to do next. This isn’t April.
This is October.
But then again there’s this little chestnut…
Like I said, it’s important to not lean too hard on hindsight when a team is in the postseason.
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