Let's face it, there are reasons to be concerned about the Boston Red Sox entering the 2017 season. Between injured pitchers and the absence of newly-retired David Ortiz, the roster isn't looking exactly the way anyone would prefer.
That said, there's also a reason to lay off the panic button. And his name is Chris Sale.
Sale is the Red Sox' brand new toy. He was acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox over the winter. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski gave up a lot to get him, but not as much as one would've thought, given Sale's ability to dominate.
The 6-foot-6 lefty makes his first start on Wednesday night at Fenway Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Red Sox manager John Farrell chose Rick Porcello as Monday's Opening Day starter because Porcello won the American League Cy Young last season in Boston. But if you put that award aside, nobody in their right mind would take Porcello over Sale.
That's not a knock on Porcello. It's high praise for Sale.
Even if David Price was healthy to begin the season, Sale would be the best starting pitcher in the Red Sox rotation. He's a 28-year-old power pitcher whose lanky left-handed arm makes for arguably the most devastating slider in Major League Baseball. And he's one of the main reasons why I'm still predicting the Red Sox to win the AL East.
Seeing that Price begins the season on the disabled list, and that Ortiz isn't walking back through that door, picking the Red Sox to win the division again wasn't such an easy choice. I expect the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles -- last year's AL Wild Card teams -- to be contenders once again, but they both have their flaws.
The Blue Jays will have to deal with Edwin Encarnacion leaving Toronto for Cleveland. And the Orioles will once again have a starting rotation that I just don't know what to think of. I believe the New York Yankees are still a year or two away. And this could be the season the Tampa Bay Rays trade ace Chris Archer.
All four of those teams look at the Red Sox and see some weaknesses as well. But Sale has the ability to be the ultimate difference-maker in a division that nobody's walking away with on paper. He is dominant enough to put the Red Sox over the top.
Sale's Red Sox career begins Wednesday night. It'll be cold in Boston. But he'll have to get used to it. Because if he dominates the way I expect him to this season, he'll be starting Game 1 of the ALDS at Fenway.
And it won't be any warmer in October.
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