Red Sox vs. Astros: Chris Sale's absence and bullpen usage puts Boston pitching in a bind for ALCS Game 5

HOUSTON — Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, the Boston Red Sox will look to punch their ticket to the 2018 World Series with an ALCS Game 5 win over the Houston Astros. The Red Sox won a thrilling Game 4 on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 series lead. It was one of the best games in recent postseason memory. Here’s how you catch watch Game 5.

ALCS games will air on TBS, which can be streamed on fuboTV (Try for free). For a look at the complete schedule, click here

The Red Sox will not have ace left-hander Chris Sale on the mound in Game 5 as originally scheduled. Sale spent a night in the hospital with a stomach ailment last weekend and he is not yet strong enough to take the mound in a game. He hasn’t even thrown a bullpen session since his Game 1 start. Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced Wednesday that Sale will instead start a potential Game 6 rather than Game 5.

“He still feels weak. He lost some weight. I know that’s hard to believe but, yeah, he did,” Cora said on Wednesday. “He didn’t throw a bullpen today. He’s feeling better compared to yesterday, but physically he’s not there yet. So I think if necessary he’ll pitch Game 6. He feels that he’ll be ready for that one. And we’ll go from there.”

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

Red Sox manager Alex Cora will have to be creative with his pitching staff in Game 5.

With Sale unavailable, the Red Sox will instead start David Price on three days of rest in Game 5. For all intents and purposes, it will be the first start of Price’s career on short rest. He did make one start on three days’ rest way back in 2008, but that came after a 14-pitch relief appearance. Price has never started on short rest following another start.

Furthermore, Price warmed up in the bullpen in Game 4. He warmed up with intent too. Cora indicated Price would’ve been in the game had the Astros gotten to within one run at some point in the eighth or ninth innings. Price didn’t just toss the ball around to get loose. He warmed up with urgency and any pitcher will tell you that takes a toll physically. Not a big one, but a toll nonetheless.

So, not only will Price start on short rest in Game 5 on Thursday, he’ll also start after having fully warmed up in Game 4 on Wednesday night. And, on top of that, Boston’s bullpen has been taxed pretty good in Games 3 and 4 the last two days. Checkout the bullpen’s ALCS workloads.

Oct. 17 (Game 4) Oct. 16 (Game 3) Oct. 15 (off-day) Oct. 14 (Game 2) Oct. 13 (Game 1)

RHP Matt Barnes

1/3 IP (5 pitches)

2/3 IP (16 pitches)

1 1/3 IP (15 pitches)

1 1/3 IP (21 pitches)

RHP Ryan Brasier

1 2/3 IP (23 pitches)

1 IP (14 pitches)

1 IP (19 pitches)

1 IP (12 pitches)

RHP Heath Hembree

RHP Joe Kelly

1 IP (25 pitches)

1/3 IP (4 pitches)

1 2/3 IP (33 pitches)

RHP Craig Kimbrel

2 IP (35 pitches)

1 IP (16 pitches)

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

0 IP (7 pitches)

1 IP (16 pitches)

RHP Brandon Workman

1/3 IP (26 pitches)

Barnes and Brasier, Cora’s ace setup duo this postseason, will go into Game 5 having each pitched four times in the last five days. Brasier threw more than one inning in Game 5 as well. Kelly and Rodriguez have both pitched the last two days — Rodriguez is a starter by trade who has never pitched back-to-back-to-back days in his career — and Kimbrel had a long outing in Game 4. There’s some fatigue in that bullpen right now, for sure.

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That said, this is the postseason, and the Red Sox can clinch the American League pennant with a win in Game 5. Is everyone available Thursday? Yes. I have zero doubt about it. Pushing Brasier or Kimbrel for multiple innings again may not happen, but I’m certain they’ll get the ball should the need arise. Also, keep in mind Friday is an off-day, so even if the Red Sox drop Game 5, they’ll get a rest prior to Game 6 on Saturday.

It’s unclear how much Price can give the Red Sox in Game 5 since he’ll be on short rest and did warm up in Game 4. I think they’d sign up for five innings right now and consider that a huge win. (Price only went 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 while on extra rest.) Piecing together the rest of the game after that might take some creativity. Hembree or especially Workman could be asked to get some big outs in the middle innings before the possibly fatigued late-inning guys come into play.

“From top to bottom, everybody has gone out and done their job, got out of big spots when we needed it,” said Kimbrel on Wednesday. “I know there’s a lot of talk about our bullpen coming into the playoffs, and seems like everybody stepped up to the plate and done their job … At the end of the day we’ve been able to do our job and get the wins when we needed them.”

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