Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale's Impending Return Should Be Exciting, But Skepticism Is Warranted

Tomase: Why Chris Sale's Red Sox return requires some skepticism originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Like the Patriots moving to Connecticut, Texas seceding, and Elon Musk buying Twitter, here's how I feel about Chris Sale impacting the 2022 pennant race: I'll believe it when I see it.

The Red Sox sound excited about the perpetually rehabbing left-hander as he nears a return. He threw one inning of rehab on Monday in Port Charlotte, is consistently hitting 97 mph, and has apparently rediscovered his changeup.

Call me a Doubting Tomase, because we've heard this song before. Sale was supposed to make a difference in the 2018 postseason after effectively missing six weeks. While he'll always be remembered for throwing the final pitch of that magical season, he was otherwise a non-factor.

A year later, he flogged himself after a series of uncharacteristically mediocre starts before shutting it down in August. That led to an entire offseason of assurances that he did not need Tommy John surgery, no sirree ... until he did, in fact, need Tommy John surgery.

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He missed all of 2020 and we awaited his 2021 debut with bated breath. He came back two years and one day after last taking the mound, and it's fair to say the Red Sox do not reach the playoffs without him. They won six of his first seven starts, but it didn't take long to see he wasn't himself.

He started the must-win season finale in Washington and didn't even last three innings. He posted an 8.00 ERA in the playoffs and had fallen so far that we legitimately celebrated five-plus innings and four runs in a 9-1 loss to the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS. His fastball lacked explosiveness, his slider was a 50-50 proposition, and forget about his changeup.

So forgive my skepticism as we near the completion of another waiting game. It's hard to get excited about Sale's return, because there's just no guarantee he'll have any staying power.

It's always something with Sale, whose competitive fire unfortunately is not matched by a stout constitution.

John Tomase

Lest we forget, he's sidelined because he broke a rib while throwing a pitch during the lockout. He didn't trip. He didn't get smoked by a line drive. He wasn't gored by a wild boar, crushed by a falling air conditioner, or pummeled in a basement Fight Club.

He broke a rib throwing a pitch, and if you're wondering how often that happens to a big leaguer, the answer is pretty much never. Otherwise, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson and maybe Tim Lincecum would've spent their primes bandaged like Civil War casualties.

It's always something with Sale, whose competitive fire unfortunately is not matched by a stout constitution. No one doubts his will or his drive or his desire to return and start earning his $145 million extension, but will his body let him?

He hasn't finished any season healthy since his Red Sox career began in 2017. As electrifying as his 308-strikeout debut season may have been, he allowed nine homers that September and then three more in the ALDS opener vs. Astros. Even with manager John Farrell buying him an extra day of rest before four of his last five starts, Sale still faded.

Those problems have only intensified in the four years since, and it's not difficult to envision a scenario whereby Sale returns soon, gives the team a lift for two weeks or even two months, and then feels something in his oblique, or elbow, or shoulder, or neck, and thus begins the cycle anew: Sale bemoans how he's letting his teammates down, and manager Alex Cora dutifully updates us on his progress day after day after stultifying day.

So please spare me the talk of how he's really their great trade deadline acquisition. I want to believe in Sale, I do. But I'm gonna need to see it.

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