The Boston Red Sox lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, but the team might consider the night a win, as it saw Chris Sale return to the rotation as the team fights for a wild-card position in the American League.
Sale went five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out five in his debut this season.
Cora impressed by Sale’s debut
The 33-year-old Sale missed the entirety of the 2022 season with a fracture in his right rib cage. He’s started only 10 games for the Red Sox since 2019.
“He threw the ball well and finished well,” Boston manager Alex Cora told reporters after the game. “Did an outstanding job toward the end, had good velocity and command of the pitches were okay. Delivery was under control, and he gave us five innings, so that’s a good start.”
Sale is a seven-time All-Star who finished in the top five in the AL Cy Young Award in each of those All-Star seasons. After pitching for the White Sox for the first seven seasons of his career, Chicago traded him to Boston for a package including Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada prior to the 2017 season.
After two excellent seasons for the Red Sox, Sale struggled in 2019. Injuries have plagued him since. Still, he could make the difference down the stretch for Boston if he captures anything near his previous level of success on the mound.
Red Sox fighting for AL wild card
Sale took positives from his start, though he also sees room for improvement.
“Command was spotty at times, but when I really had to bear down and get it, I felt like I was able to,” Sale told reporters. “Being able to have my best stuff, my powerful stuff, feeling strong in the fourth and fifth inning, is nice. I’ll just keep building off that and we’ll try to string together some wins.”
Sale left with the lead. The Rays then scored three times in the sixth to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Chris did a good job,” Cora said. “And we didn’t finish it.”
Boston currently sits at 47-41 and in the second wild-card position in the American League. While they trail the Yankees by 14.5 games in the AL East – New York is all but certain to win the division – the Red Sox are among three other teams in the division that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Guardians, and Seattle Mariners are all within striking distance.
In other words, the Red Sox are still involved in a difficult fight for postseason spots. Having Sale back and at his best could make a world of difference. Sale has pitched to a 3.02 career ERA over 12 seasons, though he’s just 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA in his playoff career.
The Red Sox are currently a +2800 pick to win the World Series at FanDuel Sportsbook, with the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers sharing co-favorite status at +400.