Yes, Chris Sale gets Game 1 for the Red Sox. But who starts Game 2?
Assuming the Boston Red Sox hold on to win the American League East -- and by a big enough margin that they are able to set up their rotation -- Chris Sale will start the opener of the Division Series. Regardless of the opponent, he will face a fellow ace -- Justin Verlander or Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros, or if the Cleveland Indians ever lose again, Corey Kluber.
Get your popcorn ready.
Which Red Sox pitcher will start Game 2? The answer isn't as obvious.
In a perfect world, manager John Farrell would give the ball to David Price. Even considering his 0-8 record and 5.74 ERA in nine postseason starts, Price is a Cy Young Award winner (2012). He hasn't pitched since July 22 because of an injury to his left elbow/triceps, his second prolonged stint on the disabled list this season.
Price's unavailability would leave the Red Sox to choose between their other starters. Here's a look at Farrell's options:
The Opening Day starter
Last year, Rick Porcello started the 2016 Division Series opener, pushing Price back to Game 2 on the strength of a 22-4 regular-season record that earned him the Cy Young nod. As a reward for his breakthrough season, Porcello also got the ball on Opening Day 2017.
There haven't been many highlights since.
With the 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, Porcello's record dropped to 9-17. He has a 4.64 ERA and has given up 35 homers, tied with Seattle's Ariel Miranda for most in the majors. He was hit hard by the Astros during a June series in Houston and hasn't faced the Indians since they knocked him around for five runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 1 last year.
If Porcello is a Game 2 consideration, it would be because of his home-road splits. He has a 5.30 ERA in 18 starts at Fenway Park compared to a 3.74 mark in 12 starts on the road, and the Red Sox likely will be away for the first two games of the Division Series.
"Wins and losses, a lot of that is out of his control," Farrell says. "There’s been a number of games in which he’s kept us in a position to win, he’s pitched well enough to win and some of those days he’s come up empty."
The hot hand
If Farrell is really running a meritocracy, Drew Pomeranz is the choice for Game 2.
While Sale is clearly the Red Sox's best pitcher, Pomeranz presents a strong case as their most consistent. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of his last 16 starts -- and 23 of 28 starts overall -- and won nine of his last 10 decisions.
This is the best Pomeranz has pitched since at least the first half of last season when he was an All-Star with the San Diego Padres. To hear him tell it, this run has been even better.
"I was one-dimensional at times when I was over there," Pomeranz says. "I had a good curveball and a good glove-side fastball. Now, I think I've developed a lot of things to help me win games and help me make pitches."
The knock on Pomeranz: His inability to pitch deep in games. The big lefty has completed seven innings once all season (May 31 against the league-worst Chicago White Sox) and pitched into the seventh only eight times. He also has thrown 2,741 pitches, 100 shy of his career high set last season, and likely will make four more starts in the regular season.
So much of the way a rotation is arranged for the playoffs depends on matchups. Pomeranz has pitched well against both the Indians and Astros this season. He also has been nearly as effective on the road (7-3, 3.45 ERA in 14 starts) and at home (8-2, 3.24 ERA in 14 starts), leaving little reason he shouldn't line up behind Sale.
The dark horse
When the season began, Doug Fister was sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring. On Memorial Day, he was in Triple-A with the Los Angeles Angels. On July 4, two weeks after the Red Sox claimed him off waivers, he was a rotation placeholder for injured lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.
Lately, though, Fister has been the Red Sox's best starter, outpitching even Sale.
In his last seven starts, Fister has a 2.79 ERA and is holding opponents to a .194 average. The 33-year-old sinkerballer has defeated the Indians twice, including a one-hitter Aug. 22 in Cleveland, and the Yankees once. He has completed at least seven innings in four consecutive starts and five of his last seven.
"He has been such a boost," Farrell says.
Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski has seen Fister do it before. In 2011, after being acquired by Dombrowski at the trade deadline, Fister went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA down the stretch for the Detroit Tigers. In a rotation that included Verlander and Max Scherzer, Fister started Game 1 of the Division Series against the Yankees.
That won't happen this year, as long as Sale stays healthy and the Red Sox are able to line up their rotation, but it suddenly isn't crazy to think Fister could start Game 2, a possibility that he insists is "the furthest thing from my mind right now."
"It's definitely a blessing," Fister says of the opportunity he has gotten with the Red Sox. "I look at it as something that kind of, I don’t know, resparked, turned things around, whatever you may call it. It definitely put me in the right position."
The wild card
On Saturday, Price threw 32 pitches during two simulated innings, the most significant step yet in his potential return. He's slated to simulate three innings Wednesday at Fenway Park.
With only 20 days left in the season, can he build the arm strength required from a starter?
Red Sox decision-makers will have that conversation with Price in due time, according to Farrell, but they surely have discussed it among themselves. Considering Price hasn't made a start in nearly two months and missed the season's first two months with what he called a "tear" in his elbow, it seems doubtful they would overextend the $217 million man by putting him back in the rotation.
Besides, Price has postseason experience as a reliever. He was overpowering out of the bullpen for the 2008 Rays and made one relief appearance for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 playoffs. The Red Sox also lack a dominant lefty reliever. Price could be that guy.
On sheer talent, Price is the Red Sox's second-best starter. But there's also the matter of his postseason track record as a starter, including his Game 2 dud in last year's Division Series against the Indians.
If Price isn't completely right, either in terms of health or arm strength, there's little sense in having him start, especially since the Red Sox have other options.