How Sale, 'pen usage could impact Sox ahead

Lefty ace lasts just 4-plus innings in Boston's Game 1 win

October 24th, 2018

BOSTON -- It's 2018, so we probably should have known that a World Series game featuring two of the game's most decorated left-handed starters would end up with neither pitching past the fifth inning.

Game 1 of the World Series, featuring and Chris Sale, wound up, somewhat unsurprisingly, being decided by the bullpens. The Red Sox prevailed, 8-4, and if there's anything to glean from this game, it's that Jack Morris-like complete games in the Fall Classic may forever be a thing of the past. There's good news, though -- important October games that center so much around bullpens are fascinating to dissect, especially since decisions made in Game 1 could easily affect what happens two, three and four days from now, and beyond.

:: World Series schedule and results ::

With that in mind, here are four pitching developments from Game 1 that could affect Boston's plans moving forward as the World Series progresses:

1. It started with Sale

Sale's body of work over the years has earned him "ace" status, but his actual contributions in a 2018 thwarted by shoulder inflammation, and later, a stomach illness, have done less to separate him from the pack. And his short outing in Game 1 may affect how the Sox's bullpen situation shakes out for the rest of the World Series.

Sale exited his start Tuesday night with a lead, but also with a high pitch count, leaving it up to the bullpen to account for the final 15 Dodgers outs. A typically patient Los Angeles lineup succeeded in making Sale work for those outs -- he threw 50 pitches in the first two frames -- and by the time he was lifted following a fifth-inning leadoff walk to , the lefty had thrown 91 pitches, compared to just 69 for Kershaw.

Sale's health status has been a hot topic for a while. It started with a genuine baseball ailment, a sore shoulder, that sidelined him for a decent amount of the second half of the regular season. But it was the stomach bug Sale contracted at some point either during or just after his start against the Astros in the American League Championship Series that drew the most attention, for a couple of reasons: 1. It landed him in the hospital; and 2. He later jokingly blamed it on an infection stemming from a rogue belly button ring.

Whether Sale is playing at full strength is up for debate. What's not in question is that he didn't pitch very long, which added to the relief corps' workload.

For his part, Boston manager Alex Cora said he liked what he saw from the lefty in Game 1.

"That was good stuff today," Cora said. "Stuff-wise, probably the best [he's had] in the postseason. And he feels really good, no problems with the belly button. So that's a plus. He'll be OK for the next one."

Said Sale: "I said a couple times in the dugout, that's a dogfight. The two best teams in baseball, there's zero room for error. Both teams are grinding. My job as a starting pitcher is obviously to try to pitch as deep in the game as I can, and win. Luckily for me, I have an unbelievable offense and defense. That wasn't exactly how you wanted to draw it up but ... they picked me up."

2. Should Joe Kelly have stayed in another inning?

Let's rewind to the moments just before ignited Red Sox Nation with a three-run homer in the eighth inning. Kelly, with a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 postseason innings, breezed through the sixth, striking out two and doing it efficiently, needing just 14 pitches. Logically, it seemed he was up for another inning. But Cora opted for , who allowed a run, and , who coaxed a fly ball from to close out the inning.

Kelly K's Kemp on filthy changeup

Why not use Kelly for another inning? The 5-3 score may have dictated that decision. Typically this postseason, Cora has used Kelly for longer outings when Boston has been behind, and when the Red Sox are leading, he tends to use Kelly more conservatively, opting for the higher-leverage pitchers -- Matt Barnes, Brasier, , -- when there's a lead to protect.

"Joe was outstanding," Cora said. "His changeup, his fastball, that was good. Knowing that we were going to go to the rover in the 8th, either Rick or Nate [Eovaldi], we decided to go with Brasier. It wasn't his best night. But like I said earlier today, Drew [Pomeranz] and Eduardo, they're going to have to get big outs somewhere, somehow, against lefties in this series, and Eddie did right away. Two-oh fastball up in the zone, gets Bellinger out. We add on and we had it the rest of the game."

3. The middle innings

Clearly, Cora has options to bridge the gap between those dicey middle innings and the ninth, when Kimbrel takes over. In Game 1, Cora went with his possible Game 3 starter, , to pitch the eighth. That was the safest bet -- Eovaldi has come through in both starting and relief roles this postseason, and Cora has the added bonus of using whatever starter he didn't need in relief to take the mound in Game 3.

That doesn't necessarily mean Porcello will start Game 3, and no formal announcement has been made. But having these two options likely led to Cora not using Kelly for a second inning, which, of course, likely makes him available for Game 2.

"I think having Nate and Rick available, it gives us a chance to be more aggressive during the game earlier," Cora said. "They've been amazing in that role, and the fact that they're able to bounce back and give us a start -- a quality start -- that's what matters."

4. Is Kimbrel back?

Kimbrel has made six appearances this postseason, but Tuesday's outing was his first 1-2-3 inning. The closer was apparently tipping his pitches in prior rounds, an issue that, according to his manager, has been fixed. Now Kimbrel looks like the old Kimbrel, which should be a scary notion for the Dodgers, and a comfort to Cora, who seemingly has one less inning to work out in his head as he's navigating the fifth inning and beyond.

Kimbrel threw 13 pitches in the ninth inning in Game 1, 10 of which were strikes.

"For him, he has to feel good about it," Cora said. "His stuff was great tonight. Like I said after Game 5 in Houston, we were very comfortable with Craig Kimbrel, and he's going to get the ball in close games."