The Red Sox will ask Chris Sale, who has been an ace for Boston, to save them. Maybe for the rest of the season.
Sale, who will make his first start in two years on Saturday, will not be able to straighten the ship alone. He can’t fix the way Boston pitchers have been pitching since the All-Star break. Now, the Red Sox seem more likely to finish fourth than at the top of the division, where they were for much of the season.
But any chance the Patirrojos have to show that what they accomplished for more than three months was no fluke begins with Sale’s return to the majors on Saturday.
No one knows if he will ever be the strikeout machine he was when he arrived in Boston, swinging 308 in 214.1 innings in 2017, then 237 in 158 innings with a 2.11 ERA in 2018. All Boston fans know how much they need him to. Sale back to that level, looking like the pitcher who struck out all three he faced in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers, sealing the championship in style against Manny Machado.
He won’t be pitching a rehab start in Portland, Maine or with the WooSox of Worcester. He’s back at Fenway Park. Now yes, the moment of truth has arrived.
“I feel like with what I did today, I could have done it in a major league game,” Sale confessed after his last start with the WooSox last weekend. “I can say that I have felt normal in my last two outings.”
Even when Sale was not “normal”, when he was clearly not at his level and did not have the usual speed before being separated in the summer of 2019, he was still looking on the mound. He struck out 17 Rockies in seven innings in May. He fanned 10 Orioles in June of that year.
But his speed was slowing down. It was clearly not the same pitcher who shot 100 mph when he wanted to. He finally underwent surgery Tommy john. He was out all last season. Now he’s back for the Red Sox in 2021. Better late than never. But Red Sox fans hope it’s not too late now.
Most of the team’s fans know their starter numbers and the pressure on the bullpen, which has collapsed lately. The rotation effectiveness in the last month is greater than five runs per game. That that period, only five other teams have been worse. Starters haven’t been able to average more than five stretches per game. Venezuelan Martín Pérez is now in the bullpen. Same with Garrett Richards. Nathan Eovaldi currently has the best ERA at 3.92. Nick Pivetta has 4.34 and the Venezuelan Eduardo Rodríguez 5.24.
“Help is on the way,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said recently, referring not only to Chris Sale, but also to Kyle Schwarber, who made his Red Sox debut on Friday after being acquired at the trade deadline.
The Red Sox don’t expect Sale to shine in every inning since his debut. Sure, they’ll need a lot more than a stellar pitcher to save them and relieve all the pressure the rotation has put on the bullpen. Even the other day, when the Red Sox were up 20-1 in the ninth inning against the Rays, Phillips Valdez allowed a grand slam and seven total runs. On Thursday, with promising Tanner Houck having had a solid start, a 1-1 game resulted in an 8-1 loss to Tampa Bay, which has far outperformed Boston in recent weeks.
But Chris Sale is back and the Red Sox are playing a series against the Orioles, before heading to New York to face the Yankees three times in two days. Then they will meet the Rangers and Twins. Eovaldi is the team leader with 10 wins. Now Chris Sale is called to regain his position as ace in the rotation.
“Obviously, teams are going to make moves in the coming weeks in search of improvement,” said Puerto Rican manager Alex Cora before the trade deadline. “One thing’s for sure, no one can get Chris Sale via exchange. We can add Chris Sale to our equation and we are very excited about it. “
Although they acquired Schwarber, the Red Sox made no impact moves on the trade deadline. The Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays made weight changes. The pace changed for the Red Sox. Sale can’t do it all. It can contribute something. Open a game and maybe help save a season.