The struggling Boston Red Sox hope to get a major boost Saturday when seven-time All-Star Chris Sale returns to their starting rotation.
Sale, whose elbow problems have kept him sidelined for the last two years, is a strike-throwing left-hander with a career earned run average of 3.03 – amazing for anyone who plays half the schedule in compact Fenway Park.
If Sale recaptures his former form or comes anywhere close to it, his activation will be the equivalent of a major trade deadline acquisition.
Of all the starters traded by the July 30 deadline, only Max Scherzer has credentials that compare to Sale’s. Knowing Sale was due back, Boston failed to acquire any front-line pitching before the deadline. That may have been a mistake, as the Red Sox had dropped eight of their last ten games entering play Tuesday night.
As for Sale, the 6-6, 183-pound Florida native, a former first-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, has led the American League in strikeouts and complete games twice each and innings pitched once. His 5.366 ratio of strikeouts to walks leads all active pitchers.
Voted Sporting News Pitcher of the Year in 2017 and 2018, Sale has finished as high as second in the voting for American League Cy Young Award and ninth in the annual MVP balloting. He also started three consecutive All-Star Games, a feat matched previously only by Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez and Robin Roberts.
Beset by pitching problems, Boston needs Sale immediately if not sooner. The team woke up Tuesday with a 68-44 record, four games behind Tampa Bay in the American League East but only two ahead of the third-place Yankees and three up on the fourth-place Blue Jays. Both New York and Toronto are playing well and tightening the race.
Sale, who had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in March 2020, needs to justify his status as the highest-paid player on the Red Sox roster. He signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension just before the beginning of the 2019 campaign and can’t become a free agent before 2025. That deal doubled the salary of the hard-throwing righthander, whose unorthodox delivery earned him his nickname of “The Condor.”
Sale came to the Sox as the key figure in a 2016 winter meetings trade that sent Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and two minor-leaguers to Chicago. He had been a first-round amateur draft pick by the White Sox in 2010. Sale spent seven years in Chicago before his trade to Boston.
He is one of three prominent right-handers returning from Tommy John surgery in the coming weeks. Erstwhile aces Luis Severino of the New York Yankees and Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets are both expected back by Labor Day.
With few exceptions, most pitchers are able to regain their former form after the surgery. The best current example is Jacob deGrom, who won two Cy Young Awards for the Mets after having the procedure.