Red Sox Nation received some encouraging news this week, when both starters Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez were announced to be close to returning to the rotation. Both players have been key contributors to Boston’s success in the last few seasons, but injuries and COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench in what had the potential for being an underrated 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Complicate this with the bullpen problems this team has faced since winning it all in 2018, and Red Sox fans everywhere are relieved to see them working back to full strength.
The Return of Chris Sale
Since recording the final out of the 2018 World Series, Chris Sale simply hasn’t looked like his normally dominant self. Between 2011-2017, he won 17 games three times and posted 200+ strikeout seasons five times. When he was traded to Boston in 2017 and showed immediately why he was an ace, winning 17 starts that season. Unfortunately he was shelled in the playoffs by the Houston Astros. He followed that up with a 12-4 campaign but once again he struggled in the postseason, at one point only lasting four innings in back to back starts and having David Price replace him in ALCS clincher in Houston. The following season the story took a turn for the worst.
His 2019 campaign saw him post a career worst 6-11 record with a 4.40 ERA. I knew something was wrong when he lasted a mind blowing three innings on opening day, surrendering seven runs and three home runs. He was eventually lost for the season due to shoulder inflammation and in 2020 he would require Tommy John Surgery. Last month, Sale also tested positive for a mild case of COVID-19, but is on schedule to return this season. Obviously his health is priority number one, but from a baseball perspective this Red Sox pitching staff is in desperate need for a pitcher that can eat up innings throughout the season. Their bullpen is a work in progress and has a lot to prove.
Red Sox Rely on E-Rod
One of the biggest surprises of 2019 was the emergence of Eduardo Rodriguez. With Sale not 100% healthy, E-Rod assumed the role of ace with a career best 19-6 record and a 3.81 ERA. This seemed to come out of nowhere because his previous career high in wins was 13. I thought to myself: perfect now we have two aces to count on, when Sale returned. Unfortunately, for everyone Red Sox Nation, COVID-19 ravaged the country and Rodriguez contracted the virus. The news got even worse when it was reported he tested positive for COVID-19 and was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart which resulted from coronavirus. That diagnosis ended any hope for his return and for a while I thought it could be career ending. I was scared for him but I couldn’t even imagine what he was feeling.
On the baseball end of things, the Red Sox struggled to fill the number one spot in the rotation in place of Sale and Rodriguez in a pandemic shortened 2020 season. An 8-13 record is simply not going to keep you competitive in a division featuring the playoff bound New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. One pitcher to keep an eye on is Nathan Evovaldi. He finished last season with a 4-2 record with a 3.72 ERA but the biggest concern for him is durability. He only appeared in 9 games last season and pitched 67 ⅔ innings in his first season in Boston. Calf and elbow injuries have cut his season short in the last two years, but if the Red Sox are going to go anywhere near October, they will need him 2015 (14-3) form with a lot lower of an ERA (4.20). I don’t know what to expect out of the top three hurlers in this rotation and that scares me heading into the new season.
How many wins will Sale and Rodriguez earn by season’s end? Can their return save an unreliable bullpen? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or the CruelFan Facebook page.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com