Boston Red Sox

By Matt McCarthy,

The Red Sox bullpen is coming off a putrid seven run performance against the lowly Orioles, but that was by no means the most concerning element of Wednesday’s season finale against Baltimore.

Chris Sale still doesn’t look right, and it’s time to wonder if he’ll ever look right again in 2018.

Sale threw 92 pitches over 4 2/3 innings in his final regular season tune up. The lefty was effective at times, thanks in big part to his off-speed stuff, but hardly looked like himself with a below average fastball. He averaged only 90 MPH on his heater, the lowest mark in any start of his career.

That follows his start against Cleveland on Friday where his fastball velocity was also down in the low-90’s.

That’s not what you want from your ace just eight days away from the start of the playoffs.

Sep 26, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (41) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It is possible that Sale is simply conserving his bullets for the starts that actually matter in October, but it seems more likely that a pitcher with a history of wearing down as seasons move along is dealing with the lingering effects of a shoulder problem that put him on the disabled list twice this season.

Are there still people out there suggesting that Sale was on the disabled list purely for rest?

The big question about Sale’s readiness for October remains his ability to recover and bounce back in between starts, which was one of the main reasons he was sent back to the DL for the second time in August. It’s probably not a coincidence that Sale’s velocity was down in back-to-back starts that came on normal rest.

So far, it doesn’t look like four days, regular rest, is enough time for Sale to get back to full strength.

Thankfully, Sale won’t take the ball until next Friday. In theory, he should never be stronger or more fresh as he will be for Game 1.

But after that, the Red Sox will have to rely on their ace nearly every fifth day. It’s fair to wonder if his shoulder can hold up on regular rest, let alone on short rest if needed.

The Cubs could turn to Jon Lester on short rest. The Astros could do that with Justin Verlander. The Indians could trust Corey Kluber in that situation. None of those teams would hesitate to give their ace the ball on three days rest if their season depended on it.

Can Chris Sale be relied upon like the other October workhorses around the league? At this point, there’s no reason to think that he can. There’s simply no proof that he can hold up.

If the Red Sox are going to go deep in the playoffs, they can’t have an average Chris Sale. They need the real Chris Sale, the overpowering and dominant Chris Sale. He has been missing since July.

They have eight days to find him.

Time is running out.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.