The Boston Red Sox have entered the month of June in quite an interesting spot. While they have a 29-27 record, which is really better than many expected them to be, they still find themselves sitting in last place in the American League East. Things were already hard for them in their loaded division, but Chris Sale's injury concerns flaring up again have made a tough situation all the more difficult.
Boston's season has really gone as their pitching staff has gone. Their starting rotation hasn't exactly been up to par, but the bullpen has been lockdown when it's had to be. After a horrible start to the season, Sale had recently begun to emerge as the ace the Red Sox were hoping he could be this year, despite all the time he had missed over the past three years.
And yet, just when you think he's in the clear, Sale finds a new way to hurt himself. After being pulled from his most recent start against the Cincinnati Reds early, Sale found himself in a familiar spot in the injured list with left shoulder inflammation, and the hope is that he will be back sooner rather than later. That's never a guarantee with Sale, though, and it's safe to say this couldn't have happened at a worse time for the Sox.
Why Chris Sale's injury is such a disaster for the Red Sox
Sale's numbers on the season aren't typically what you'd expect to see from an ace (5-2, 4.58 ERA, 71 K, 1.19 WHIP) but he's been much improved over the last month of the season. Dating back to his start on April 30th against the Cleveland Guardians, Sale's numbers (4-0, 2.25 ERA, 41 K, 0.83 WHIP) have represented the best stretch of pitching for him dating back to 2018.
There are a couple of reasons why this is such a problematic injury for the Sox. We can state the obvious here in stating that this is the best Sale has looked in awhile. Taking him off the hill not only robs Boston of their top starter, but also once again raises the question of whether or not he will be able to reach his peak form when he returns from this injury.
Beyond Sale, the rest of the Sox rotation is still a bit of a mess. Corey Kluber and Nick Pivetta were both so bad in the starting rotation that they were sent to the bullpen, and now one of them is likely going to have to get bumped back to the rotation for the time being, which is less than ideal. Pivetta has been decent out of the pen so far, so he should probably be the guy to get the starts in Sale's absence, but for whatever reason, Alex Cora loves Kluber and his 6.26 ERA.
Beyond this dilemma, the Sox also have to note that the rest of their starters haven't been particularly good this season. Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock both still have ERAs above five, and James Paxton has been understandably rusty at times after returning from what was basically a three-year absence from the majors. Brayan Bello has surprisingly been the most consistent piece of the rotation to this point, posting a 3.89 ERA, but he's not exactly an innings eater, which does tax the bullpen.
Sale was the one guy who was proving he could consistently lead Boston's rotation, and in the blink of an eye, he's gone, and his status for potentially returning is a massive question mark. Losing your ace is almost always a bad thing, but when you lose the best pitcher in the Red Sox awful rotation, it becomes way more important.
The Sox are going to have to survive a difficult portion of their season without their best pitcher on the hill. The lineup hasn't been particularly great lately, and there's very little evidence to suggest that the pitching staff can consistently pick up their slack. This could end up being the defining stretch of the season for Boston.
Again, expectations aren't particularly high for this team, but if they could somehow become a wild card team this season, that would have to be considered a moral victory for this team. Is that possible to attain without Sale on the mound? We are about to find out it seems, but it's clear that this is not a great situation for the Red Sox, and they are at the risk of having yet another season get shot down thanks to more injury woes from their supposed ace in Chris Sale.