There was some debate as to whether Chris Sale should pitch against New York this weekend, but Boston will have its best starter—and Yankees killer—of the season on the mound in the series opener.
No, not Sale. Rather, it will be former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi who opposes Gerrit Cole in the opening match of a high-stakes, three-game slate at Fenway Park. The righty is enjoying the best season of his career, and he’s turned things up a notch each time he’s faced his ex-employer.
Eovaldi has already made 30 starts, the most in the American League, for just the second time in his career. He owns a 3.58 ERA over 172.3 innings while striking out 26% of batters faced. His 1.66 BB/9 rate is the best in baseball, and no AL pitcher has a better HR/9 rate (0.73), FIP (2.72), or fWAR (5.5).
While not the favorite, Eovaldi has made a quiet but forceful case for the Cy Young award, and the Yankees have helped him tremendously.
Eovaldi has made more starts (5) and thrown more innings (31.1) against the Yankees this season than any other team. He enters Friday’s game with a 2.01 ERA, 34 strikeouts and just two walks against them. Eovaldi has not allowed more than two runs in a game against New York this year, and he’s gone at least five frames in each start.
The 31-year-old also has a 2.99 ERA at home, presenting the Yankees with an even tougher matchup to start a series they desperately need to win. The Yankees and Red Sox are both in wild card position entering this series. But Boston has a two-game lead on the top spot, and the Blue Jays are a game behind New York.
The good news for the Yankees is that they don’t necessarily have to solve the puzzle that is Eovaldi. They just have to, at the minimum, hang tight while he’s in. Despite Eovaldi’s dominance against New York this season, the Red Sox lost three of those five starts.
None of those games were decided by more than three runs, and with Cole on the mound as well, the Yankees are positioned to keep things close.
But if Cole implodes like he did in his last start—or like he did earlier in the year against Boston—recent history suggests Eovaldi will put the Yankees in a 1-0 series hole to begin a weekend with massive playoff implications.