Chris Sale was the best Boston Red Sox pitcher since Pedro last spring. However, a summer and postseason to forget gave people a reason to doubt him. What will 2018 bring?
Chris Sale is an excellent pitcher. Top 5 in the entire league and clearly the best on the Boston Red Sox. Last season, he proved that by having the best season of his career so far.
In his first season in Boston, Sale went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a whopping 308 strikeouts. He finished second in Cy Young voting and ninth in MVP voting. Sale was also the starting pitcher for the AL in the All-Star game. In every meaning of the word, he was an ace.
A second half to forget
Yet, somehow, the lasting taste that Chris Sale had in Red Sox fans’ mouths was not great.
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After an extraordinary pre-break stretch (11-4, 2.75 ERA, 178 SO) Sale seemed to be a lock for the Cy Young. Then, in the second half, he lost it. Corey Kluber surged while Sale, while still pitching above average, dipped off. In August and September, Sale went 4-4 in 11 starts with a 4.09 ERA and 97 strikeouts.
Sale seemed to be a little fatigued. After pitching lights out for the first few months, there was nowhere to go but down. Therefore, his stats in the second half could be somewhat justified. However, Sale got a chance to break out of this stretch in the playoffs. Going into his first postseason, he had a chance to show a national audience who the best pitcher in the league was.
But the Boston Red Sox were eliminated in four games by the Houston Astros. Sale lasted just 5 innings in Game 1, giving up 7 earned on 3 home runs. The Red Sox lost 8-2 and never had a chance.
In Game 4, Sale came out of the bullpen in the 4th inning with the Red Sox down 2-1. He pitched lights out for 4 innings. The Red Sox came back to take a 3-2 lead and were six outs away from forcing a Game 5. Then, Sale gave up a bomb to Alex Bregman to lead off the 8th inning. The Astros would go on to win the game, the series, and ultimately the World Series.
Yes, the Astros had the best offense in baseball and the Red Sox offense did not provide great run support. But Chris Sale gave up the hit that put the Red Sox out of the playoffs.
New year, new Sale
So how will Chris Sale bounce back in 2018? Obviously, the hope is that he will pitch like he did in April and May for the whole year. However, we do not live in a perfect world. That is not the expectation for Sale this season.
Instead, Sale needs to be a more balanced pitcher. He does not necessarily need to have the same peak as last year, but he can’t have the same valleys.
With any luck, a couple things about the 2018 Red Sox will help him out. First off, the offense should give him more run support. The J.D. Martinez addition along with better years from any combination of Mookie Betts/Xander Bogaerts/Jackie Bradley/Hanley Ramirez will produce more runs on the offensive end. Sale should not be pitching in as many close games if the offense lives up to the hype.
Sale should also benefit from an improved bullpen. The Boston Red Sox were without Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith for almost all of last season. Now, as long as they stay healthy, there is no reason to keep Sale pitching in deep inning games. This rest should start to add up and pay off late in the season. Combined with more run support and a better bullpen, Sale should have no problem with fatigue in the dog days of summer.
Above all, I truly believe Chris Sale is ready to go out and prove he is a worthy Cy Young pitcher. Since 2012, he has finished 6th or better in Cy Young voting but has never won. This year, that changes. Chris Sale is ready for an even better 2018.