Chris Sale has made two starts and one relief appearance in this year’s playoffs, and after striking out 237 hitters during the regular season, the Red Sox lefthander has fanned 14 hitters in 12.1 innings.
That is very good, but the question entering the World Series, in which Sale starts Game 1 for Boston against the Los Angeles Dodgers, is if it’s good enough to warrant Sale being the -250 favorite in World Series betting to lead the Fall Classic in strikeouts.
The short answer to that is no. Having been hospitalized during the ALCS for a stomach problem, and having missed a lot of time during the season for his shoulder, Sale is unlikely to be the kind of Game 1 starter who appears again in Games 4 and 7.
Were he a three-start starter in the mold of a Corey Kluber, it would be easy to pick Sale here, but it’s far more likely that he’d be seen starting Games 1 and 5, with a possibility to work relief in Game 7.
Sale very well could be the World Series strikeout leader, but it’s not something you’d believe with such confidence as to bet on it at 2-5 odds. The value here is with other pitchers on the board, though perhaps not who you would expect.
And who would you expect? Clayton Kershaw, who’s listed at +275 with 888Sport, coming off an NLCS performance in which he struck out 13 Brewers in 11 innings over three appearances, including a pair of punchouts in the ninth inning of Game 7 to seal the pennant.
The reason to be skeptical of Kershaw is that he doesn’t necessarily have to strike out hitters to be effective: witness his three strikeouts over eight innings of two-hit ball in Game 2 of the division series against Atlanta.
As a team this year, the Red Sox had the fifth-fewest strikeouts of any lineup in baseball. The Dodgers had the eighth-most, which makes it far more likely that a Red Sox pitcher is going to be king of the category in the Fall Classic.
David Price looks like a nice choice at +900, but that’s making a big assumption that Price has turned a corner with his career playoff performance – plenty possible, but no lock when he’s going up against the best lineup in the National League.
Instead, consider Nathan Eovaldi at +8000 with 888Sport, as the hard-throwing righthander is a possibility for starts in Games 3 and 7, and/or relief appearances along the way. Eovaldi is much more of a strikeout pitcher than Rick Porcello, who at +5000 is a pretty weak bet for a longshot.
If you have doubts about Eovaldi making multiple starts in the series, whether because of his rotation spot or how long the series will go, check in instead on Walker Buehler at +1600.
The Dodgers emerging ace had seven strikeouts over five innings in his division series start against an Atlanta team that, like Boston, did not strike out a ton during the season, then turned around in the NLCS and racked up 15 K’s over 11.2 innings against the Brewers.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has 15 strikeouts in 14.1 playoff innings, is another decent choice at +1400, but the pick in a category where anything can happen should be Eovaldi , who has a chance to do big things at a big price.
Should Eovaldi do that, he’s a nice darkhorse pick for World Series MVP at +2200 with 888Sport, but it’s a tough task for a pitcher to snag that award.
Only three of the last 15 World Series MVPs have been hurlers: Josh Beckett for the 2003 Marlins, Cole Hamels for the 2008 Phillies, and Madison Bumgarner with the Giants four years ago – a performance that only included five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7 after 16 innings over two brilliant starts with a total of one run allowed earlier in the series.
Looking at hitters, J.D. Martinez’s career numbers against Kershaw – 5-for-11 with two homers – make him a strong pick at +650, third choice behind Mookie Betts (+550) and Sale (+600).
Betts is hands down the best player in the series, but the best player in the series hardly ever wins the MVP – though you could make an argument for it being two of the last three Red Sox to win the award, Manny Ramirez in 2004 and David Ortiz in 2013.
With the winner often coming from a secondary tier, that points strongly toward Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox and Justin Turner of the Dodgers, both at +1400 with 888Sport), with Yasiel Puig looming at +2000) if you’re into fun and feel like his Game 7 homer in the NLCS was a sign of things to come in the biggest moments.
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