Chris Sale and the Pressure to Return to Form

The Red Sox have built their lead in the AL East on the strength of career years from Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, along with an effective patchwork rotation that has seen Nate Eovaldi emerge as something approaching an ace and the likes of Nick Pivetta and Martin Perez become stable and reliable starters. In fact, while the Sox are running a respectable 104 wRC+ as a team, it's their pitching staff that has done much of the heavy lifting this year. The team ranks fifth in Fangraphs pitching WAR and their peripherals seem to indicate their team ERA of 4.10 is somewhat inflated.

Amazingly, Eddie Rodriguez has been beaten up — thanks largely to some bad luck and the gopher ball — to the tune of a ERA over five and half. The good news is that his xERA and xFIP are two runs lower than that. The bad news is that his fastball is a tick down again this year and while we can talk all day about bad luck and peripherals and what should be happening, the reality is that E-Rod is having a rough year.

After a run of what were probably his three best starts of the season against Tampa, New York and Oakland he got shelled again by the Angels in his final start before the break. It's tough, but waiting for Eddie's luck to turn around is not a solution to the problem facing the Red Sox. The problem being that they are a quality starter short of what you would ideally want for a division winning second half.

Chris Sale is going to make a two inning rehab appearance this week and there is some thought that if everything goes smoothly, he could be built up enough for a September return, however as with any Tommy John surgery, the timelines are going to vary. The reports have all been positive. Cora has lauded his command in BP sessions and the velocity is right around his pre-injury levels of 93-95 MPH.

The temptation here is to say that Sale could be ready by the middle of August and all of a sudden the Sox have another ace level pitcher to pair with Eovaldi. If I were to bet on it, I would bet that Sale is close to pre-injury form, but with a concept as flimsy as pitching depth, there is no such thing as a sure thing. In truth the Red Sox probably need to add a starter even with Sale coming back, but adding a front end starter is going to be difficult given the status of our farm.

Chaim Bloom has definitely done well in rebuilding the system, but it's still not a gold star program. Does Bloom have enough juice to land a whale, or will he have to settle for getting a quality starter on the cheap?

Sale can make this easier if he comes back and looks like vintage Chris Sale. My worry is that with his rehab now approaching the final stages the pressure to be this staff's ace will force Sale and the Red Sox into a situation where he is being overused. There's also the concern that BP and sim games rehab starts are a world away from facing live major league hitters. It could be a bumpy few starts before Sale is able to settle back in, and having acquired another solid starter would absolutely help alleviate this pressure.