Everyone knows who the Boston Red Sox will send to the mound on Opening Day yet manager Alex Cora remains coy on the subject.
The worst kept secret in baseball is which starting pitcher the Boston Red Sox will send to the mound for Opening Day.
We know it’s going to be Chris Sale. The fans know it. The beat writers, bloggers and talking heads know it. The Tampa Bay Rays team that the Red Sox open the season against know it.
Manager Alex Cora knows it too. He’s just refusing to come out and say it.
We are less than three weeks away from the start of the regular season and Cora is still deflecting questions about his Opening Day starter. It’s not as if the new manager is debating between various options. The runner-up in last year’s Cy Young race is the obvious choice.
Who else would it be? David Price? Maybe if this was 2015. Rick Porcello got the nod on Opening Day last year. There were no delusions of Porcello being the most talented pitcher on the staff. Setting him at the top of the rotation was merely a sign of respect for the reigning Cy Young winner. He had also spent two seasons in Boston by that point, so Porcello’s tenure gave him an edge over the new guy in the mind of former manager John Farrell. Fair enough, but it won’t happen again given Porcello’s steep decline last year.
If the decision were based on last year’s results, Drew Pomeranz is the only other option to enter the conversation. He won 17 games and posted a 3.32 ERA with a 9.0 K/9 last season. That would make him the ace of many teams. Just not a team that has Sale.
Sale isn’t simply the best pitcher on this staff. He’s one of the best in baseball. Sale finished second in the AL with a 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 6.0 WAR. He led the majors with 308 strikeouts while making a serious run at Pedro Martinez‘ single-season franchise record.
It’s clear that Sale is the most worthy option to lead this rotation. He’s also lined up perfectly for the spot. Sale made his first Grapefruit League start of the spring on Friday. Staying on a standard every-fifth day schedule would line him up for a start on March 29, which happens to be when the Red Sox open the season at Tropicana Field against the Rays.
The placement of Sale’s spring debut is no coincidence. Friday’s start was planned in order to keep him on track for Opening Day. So why won’t Cora admit that?
The manager isn’t tipping his hand because he doesn’t have to. Not yet anyway. There is plenty of time before Cora is forced to reveal his rotation. It’s obvious that Sale will get the first start but the order behind him is less certain.
Pomeranz had a bit of an injury scare that pulled him early from his last start. He’s expected to be fine but there’s still a slight chance his start to the season could be delayed. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright are both working their way back from injury, which leaves the fifth spot in the rotation in question. It’s too soon to tell if Price is back to being the pitcher he once was.
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Once Cora confirms Sale as his Opening Day starter, the next logical questions to follow will be about how the rest of the rotation fills out. Cora doesn’t have answers to those questions yet so why bother having that conversation? The longer he holds out on naming his Opening Day starter, the more time he buys himself to work out the rest of the rotation.
There’s also a slight chance that Cora will throw us a curveball by holding Sale until the second game of the season. That would line him up to start the home opener on April 5. If Sale indicates that pitching the opener in front of the home fans is more important to him than starting the first game of the season on the road then Cora could make that happen.
Pushing Sale’s season debut back a day also means he would face the Rays twice to start the season. If he pitches Opening Day, his next start would be against a Miami Marlins team that has gutted its roster. Do the Red Sox really need Sale for that game? The Rays are hardly a juggernaut themselves but games against divisional opponents mean more.
Those are factors that Cora will have to consider but ultimately he is likely to hand Sale the ball for the first game of the season. Starting on Opening Day is a great honor for a pitcher and Sale deserves to be rewarded for his stellar 2017 season.
Cora may not be ready to say it yet but we can bank on seeing Sale take the mound on Opening Day.