5 bold predictions for the 2023 Boston Red Sox

Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale and infielder Rafael Devers
Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale and infielder Rafael Devers / Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages
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Red Sox ace Chris Sale
Red Sox ace Chris Sale / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

Red Sox ace Chris Sale will finish top-5 on the AL Cy Young ballot

Why it could happen: Chris Sale is one of the most dominant pitchers of this generation. He finished top-five on the AL Cy Young ballot in six consecutive seasons from 2013-2018. He was the runner-up for the award in 2017, his first year with the Red Sox, when he led the league with 308 strikeouts and challenged Pedro Martinez's single-season franchise record (313).

The obvious concern with Sale is his health. The lanky lefty has made only 11 starts while logging 48 1/3 innings over the last three seasons. However, the majority of the time he missed was due to one elbow injury. Sale initially attempted to rely on rest and rehab to recover but when that didn't work, he reluctantly went under the knife for the dreaded Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him until August of the 2021 season. Disaster struck again last year in the form of three unrelated injuries - a stress fracture in his rib last spring, a broken finger that resulted from getting hit by a line drive, followed by a wrist injury from a bike accident. These are fluke incidents that could happen to anyone and it's extremely unlikely that Sale will be this snake-bitten again.

Many will call him injury prone but there's little evidence that his slender frame makes these types of injuries inevitable. Prior to the elbow injury in 2019, Sale was one of the game's most durable pitchers. Contrary to popular belief, he's not made of glass. This isn't a character from an M. Night Shyamalan film.

When healthy, Sale is still capable of being an ace-caliber starting pitcher. He went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 11.0 K/9 in nine starts following his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery in 2021. He produced a 3.18 ERA in his very brief sample last year. Sale has only made one appearance so far this spring but he had command of his fastball, which reached 96 mph, and the usual bite on his filthy slider.

Chris Sale is still Chris Sale as long as he's healthy enough to take the mound. Anything close to his previous form is enough to enter the Cy Young conversation. All we know is that he looked very good in his return to the bump in spring training this week.

Why we can't lock it in: I'm not in the camp of fans who assume that just because Sale has been hurt before, he's destined to be hurt every year. That's simply looking for something to complain about for the sake of it. These aren't recurring injuries where one issue continues to hinder him. However, we have to acknowledge that there is risk with a pitcher who hasn't been on the mound much over the last few years.

Even if Sale stays relatively healthy, the Red Sox will be overly cautious with his workload. They aren't going to push him deep into games on a regular basis and his pitch count will be carefully monitored. If the rest of their rotation stays healthy enough to provide sufficient depth, we may see Sale skip the occasional start to keep his innings total in check. The days of Sale being a 200+ inning workhorse are probably over. Granted, very few pitchers log that many innings anymore as teams are gravitating toward a reliance on bullpens. It wouldn't be surprising if Sale fell short of 150 innings even if he avoids a major injury. It isn't realistic to assume a heavier workload when he hasn't approached that total since 2019.

Sale could look every bit as dominant as he ever has on the mound but voters would hold it against him if the other contenders logged significantly more innings. That might cost him the award but the Red Sox would still be thrilled in Sale delivered a low ERA and dominant strikeout total over 20+ starts.