The White Sox and Chris Sale meet again at Fenway Park, and the general vibe of the trade remains the same.
The Red Sox still have an elite pitcher at the top of the rotation. Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech haven’t lost any of their sheen. Luis Alexander Basabe’s better showing at Winston-Salem is a new facet, but until he gets to Birmingham and starts hitting there, his value is merely theoretical.
Sale’s numbers are right in line with his usual pace — the 110 strikeouts 85 baserunners over 81 innings is great, with 10 homers the only thing keeping him from being untouchable. His ERA has risen from 2.17 to 3.00 over the last two starts. The Astros dinged him for four runs over six innings his last time out, which wouldn’t look as worrisome if he hadn’t gotten rocked by the Braves the time before that. (Tyler Flowers homered off him again.)
He’s still wrestling with the one facet that made him human with the White Sox — his tendency to wear down at the end of the season. This year’s tweaks have Sale in a middle ground, throwing harder than his 2016 season but softer than last year, with a few more fastballs. The disappearance of his changeup in his final year in Chicago has stuck.
New manager Alex Cora has also tried to preserve Sale for the long haul. Sale threw fewer than 100 pitches over his first four starts, and he gets to face the White Sox because Cora gave him an extra day of rest between turns, which is the plan for all his starters over the course of the season. Tonight, we’ll see if this leads to another constant of Sale’s career — the tendency to get too amped for Big Games. In his only other start against the White Sox, he gave up six runs on 10 hits over five innings. He still picked up the win since Jose Quintana fared worse, but he didn’t stir a whole lot of regret over the course of the evening.
Then again, the 2017 White Sox were kinda good at crushing lefties, especially when Avisail Garcia and Todd Frazier were in the middle of the lineup. This year’s version is bottom-10 against lefties. It’s the weak side for Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez, and Daniel Palka and Charlie Tilson aren’t good subs for multiple Garcias in such situations. Losing Welington Castillo to the drug suspension doesn’t help, either.
Sale doesn’t have much to gain in this situation. If he flattens the White Sox, well, he should. A pedestrian outing will only encouraging the grumbling in Boston.
On this side of the deal, most people seem to be largely at peace, even if it’ll still take years to determine who won the deal. Sale’s first year in Boston reinforced the notion that if the White Sox needed him to be great for 33 starts to even sniff the postseason, he’d have a hard time taking them further.
The irony is that the Red Sox are an MLB-best 43-19, and they still might need Sale’s best as often as possible, because they only lead the Yankees by a half-game. None of Sale’s teams has ever been able to experiment with giving him a mid-to-late-season reset, and if the Red Sox can’t get separation even when they go 13-4 over a 17-stretch start, then Sale will need to brace for another long summer. I’m assuming he’ll manhandle the White Sox tonight, but if he slips again, the summer will be longer still.