By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
There’s little to question about the Boston Red Sox so far in 2018. Most of the real concerns extend all the way to October, and how they’ll perform once they have to face top contenders with the stakes at their highest. Fair or not, that discussion also includes ace Chris Sale.
Culminating with a rough outing in his first career playoff start against the eventual world champion Houston Astros, Sale struggled with his consistency down the stretch of an otherwise-brilliant debut season in Boston. Despite a solid 3.12 ERA after the All-Star break, that number was 4.09 in just August and September. He allowed four or more earned runs in five of his 11 starts over that stretch.
Sale finished the 2017 regular season with 214.1 innings and an average of 107.1 pitches over 32 starts. This season, he’s on pace for about 206 innings if he makes 32 starts, and he’s averaging 101.3 pitches. He had 141.1 innings through 20 starts in 2017; this year, he’s at 129.
Clearly, the Red Sox made a marked reduction in Sale’s workload during the first half of 2018, which should ultimately save him at least 1-3 starts worth of bullets compared to prior seasons. The adjusted workload didn’t hurt Sale’s performance to start the season, but the question remains as to how he will finish it.
For that reason, it would’ve been understandable to be nervous while watching Sale start in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, with fingers crossed and breathing paused. It’s hard to blame anyone who thought it would’ve behooved the Red Sox to find a reason for Sale to sit out the Midsummer Classic entirely, to rest him for what would ultimately be 11 straight days. Instead, the ASG acted as a de facto short-lived start, with five days in-between Tuesday and his first start of the stretch run on Sunday against the Detroit Tigers.
Still, Sale threw only one inning on a whopping nine pitches. That kind of workload should have zero effect on the rest of his season. Fortunately, Sale made it out of the inning unscathed physically, and the lefty is feeling good going into the final two-plus months.
“It felt really good out there,” Sale said, via Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. “One inning was a nice little tuneup. It was all good.”
Much like his teammate, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Sale needs to prove he can excel in the second half without tailing off. In 2016, his September/October ERA was 4.39, including 7.88 in his final three starts. In 2015, his September ERA was 4.34.
The hope is that Sale, at least, will not be as up-and-down in August and September as he was in the previous three seasons. It’s impossible to forecast whether a few dozen conserved innings will be enough to make a major difference for him. But the results will speak for themselves.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.