The Red Sox are set to welcome back ace Chris Sale into the rotation Sunday against the Orioles with Boston vying for a four-game sweep against its American League East foes.
Sale last pitched July 27 when he fired six innings of shutout ball with 10 strikeouts in a no-decision against the Minnesota Twins. The lanky lefty was in line for his 12th win of the season as the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth inning before the Twins tagged closer Craig Kimbrel for three runs for what was his third blown save of the season. Boston struck back to tie it into the bottom of the frame on a Rafael Devers solo home run before winning it in the 10th via a walk-off homer from Mookie Betts.
This was Sale’s seventh no decision of the season and the fourth time he left the game with the lead only the see the bullpen cough it up. Of his seven no decisions, he surrendered one run or less in four of them and that’s not including his May 11 gem against the Toronto Blue Jays when he went nine innings, allowed three runs and struck out 15, only to depart with the score reading 3-3.
Now back from a trip to the 10-day disabled list with a mild inflammation in his throwing shoulder that forced him to miss his Aug. 2 start against the New York Yankees and voided his appearance in Toronto against the Blue Jays, those no decisions may become costly.
For Sale, who is set to make $15 million next season, his 2019 option increases $2.5 million with a Cy Young title; with a second or third place finish in the vote, the option increases $1.5 million. Of the last seven AL Cy Young winners, all have won 18 or more games and five posted 20 or more victories.
There is no debating that Sale has been the AL’s best pitcher this season, hands down—there’s a reason he started the All-Star Game. He leads the AL in ERA at 2.04—which is second in the MLB—and is second in the AL with 207 strikeouts—which also ranks third in baseball—despite missing essentially one and a half starts.
With 43 games remaining, Sale will likely take to the hill eight more times. If he wins out, he’s 19-4 at season’s end. However, for a pitcher who averages a no discussion nearly every three starts, that’s a big if.
Sale can certainly win the Cy Young with a low wins total—Felix Hernandez totaled a 13-win 2010 campaign with a 2.27 ERA and claimed the award—but no pitcher with under 15 wins has done that since.
Looking at the current AL landscape, you’d have to say that Sale is on the outside looking in for the top pitching crown, unless Corey Kluber, Luis Severino, and even Blake Snell hit a bump along the road.
Keeping Sale fresh for October is manager Alex Cora’s top priority and you can’t fault him for that, but it could be costly for Sale, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 23 innings, in the end.