Red Sox: The argument for Chris Sale being moved to the bullpen

Chris Sale would best be used in the Red Sox bullpen

Well, Red Sox Nation, we’re back in the ALCS and not a single damn soul on this planet outside of Fenway Park thought that was a possibility. Being competitive, sure, but a late postseason run surely wasn’t in the plans, at least not in 2021. A key gear in the machine that is this Boston squad is lefty ace Chris Sale, and how Alex Cora chooses to use him going forward could determine this team’s fate.

I’ve been a fan of Sale’s for a long time, well before he even got to Boston. I think most of us have those players on other teams that you just enjoy watching do their thing unless it’s against the Red Sox that is. It’s safe to say that The Condor has been a massive clubhouse voice since he arrived ahead of the 2017 season and has been a leader on this team since day one.

So when he was finally slated to make his return from Tommy John at the end of the regular season, I was elated. Not only would we be getting his leadership and experience back in the dugout every day but he’d also be back on the field doing what he does best, making batters look absolutely stupid. After dominating the Minors during his rehab stint, The Boogeyman as he’s come to be known would finally make his return to the Red Sox.

While Sale went 5-1 in his return to the big leagues, it wasn’t always pretty to see him pitch. Then again, this is the same guy that threw his record-tying third Immaculate Inning while coming back from Tommy John, so what the hell do I know?

His 3.16 ERA also wasn’t awful for the 42.2 innings of work he put in. Something just felt off in his starts, but that’s to be expected. While those metrics were pretty good, some things did worry me when all was said and done.

He gave up six home runs in his short return before the season ended and while that may not sound like a lot, it is considering he gave up only 11 in 2018, an All-Star year with almost 4x the number of innings pitched.

He also gave up 15 Earned Runs and walked 12 batters, all far too close to his 2018 totals of 37 and 34 respectively. But the argument for why I believe he should be moved to the bullpen for the ALCS and beyond all stems from his two most recent starts.

In his final start of the regular season, he lasted just 2 1/3 innings while giving up two earned, walking three, and striking out seven. Yeah, I know, it’s cool that all seven outs that he earned that day were by the way of the “K,” but they weren’t smooth by any means. He tossed 62 pitches that day and on an afternoon where the Red Sox needed him the most he didn’t have it and got the early hook from Alex Cora.

Alright, one bad start, why should he lose his spot in the rotation? Well, then came the ALDS and things only for worse for Sale. The southpaw went just one inning in Game 2 against Tampa Bay thanks to the Rays stomping the ace for five runs on just four hits. As we’ve come to learn about Sale during his time in Boston when the calendar flips to October things don’t always go his way.

The Boogeyman has made eight appearances in the postseason and his results have been all over the place. When all is said and done he owns a 7.27 ERA in 26 IP in the playoffs, not exactly what I want from my big-name starter. He did make a return from injury in the 2018 World Series that saw him strike out the side in the ninth inning of Game 5, securing Boston’s ninth banner.

With his history of spotty starts in October, I truly believe that he could be a bigger weapon coming out of the bullpen to shut down the opposition. Keep his visibility low and just like a hitman, he’s in and out before you even realize he was there.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Red Sox moved an ace to the bullpen as former manager John Farrell sent David Price to the relief squad for the 2017 playoffs due to his poor October history. Granted Boston got bounced relatively quick by these very Astros in the ALDS that year, Price was effective in his bullpen efforts.

Earlier yesterday, Cora was a bit more mysterious about what Sale’s role would be in the ALCS, mostly just saying that he’d pitch some important innings. Later in the day, he would make his weekly appearance with WEEI’s “Merloni & Fauria,” where he was far more clear and made it known that Sale would be remaining in the starting rotation. With that development, the questions began to swirl about what spot he’d carry, well we have that answer now.

“He’s still in the rotation. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cora said. “He was probably going to come in with a lead in the ninth, because the way they were set up with lefties, there were a lot of good matchups for him. He’s ready, he’s great. He’s part of the rotation.”

Moments ago, it was announced that The Condor would be getting the ball for Game 1 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros. I understand wanting to go to Sale in the opening tilt since he barely pitched in his ALDS appearance while Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez both put in full effort starts. What worries me is that this Houston offense doesn’t give much, if any, room for mistakes, and Sale hasn’t been the sharpest as of late.

With E-Rod and Nasty Nate both coming through huge for the Red Sox in the ALDS they were more than locked into the ALCS rotation. I do believe that Nick Pivetta has more than earned a return to the rotation after his epic relief efforts lately. I wasn’t so sure about Sale, though, and still can’t say that I’m 100% in on him starting a game. Could he be paired with Tanner Houck and kept on a short leash if things start to go south?

Both mirror each other so closely that you can overlay them and the motion is damn near identical. So Cora could possibly barrage the Astros bats with nasty sliders and gas all day long if he partners the two up.

I also wouldn’t hate having Houck start with Sale coming in later in relief in order to just beat down the morale of this Houston side. At the end of the day, I trust in AC and if he feels this is the best route, I’ll ride with it, even if I’m not completely sold on it.

Earlier in the season when we began the countdown to Sale’s return I pitched that he should be in the bullpen to knock off some of the rust before throwing him in the deep end. Obviously, I was in the minority with that thought process and while he looks as if the gas tank may be a bit empty right now, it hasn’t fully killed the Red Sox. Game 1 of the ALCS kicks off tomorrow at 8 pm and the Red Sox will be marching out one of the most menacing pitchers in the game today, hopefully, he shows up.