Red Sox

Red Sox

NEW YORK -- Too often when presented with complex problems, we seek easy solutions.

Need to lose weight? Try a fad diet. Hate your job? Play the lottery. Feel your approval rating plummeting? There's always tariffs.

But as we try to wrap our heads around the fact that the Red Sox are only one game over .500 after a series-opening, 4-1 loss to the Yankees on Friday, the driver of their season-long malaise really needn't be overthought. It's not primarily the inconsistent offense, the beleaguered bullpen, or injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and David Price.

It's Chris Sale.

The ace dropped to 1-7 after allowing four runs in six innings, and the Red Sox fell to 3-9 in his 12 starts. Won-loss record isn't a particularly illuminating stat, but in this case, it allows for some very simple math. A year ago, the Red Sox went 7-5 in Sale's first 12 starts. The year before that, they went 9-3. In his five seasons in Chicago as a full-time starter, the White Sox won between seven and nine of his first 12 starts every season.

Leave everything else unchanged -- the injury to Eovaldi, Jackie Bradley's slump, the recent bullpen implosions, the lack of game-changing plays from defending MVP Mookie Betts, the annoying mental mistakes like Eduardo Nunez getting picked off second base on Friday -- and give the Red Sox four more wins in Sale's starts, and they're 33-24 right now. If two of those wins come at the expense of the Rays and Yankees, they might only be three games out of the division race.

 

Instead, they're 8.5 games out and I'm sorry, but Sale simply hasn't been good enough.

"It's not where I want to be," Sale said. "It's not who I am. It's not who I've ever been. I have to find a way to be better, whether it's going out there and throwing up more zeroes, being able to pick up my guys when we're scuffling a little bit. If I was able to go out there and throw a complete game shutout, it's picking them up. They've picked me up plenty of nights before. Just have to find a way. Got to be better."

On Friday, Rafael Devers staked Sale to a 1-0 lead with a solo homer, but Sale gave it all back and more in the third when he lost command of his slider. Aaron Hicks struck the big blow with a two-run single after falling behind 0-and-2 in the count.

We can make plenty of excuses, like his putrid run support -- just under three runs a start -- but Sale would be the first to admit that's letting him off the hook.

"It's just frustrating where we're at," he said. "Collectively as a group we have to find a way to start winning. I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus. I have to go out there and pitch better. If I don't have a blow-up third inning, we've got ourselves a ballgame. As much as you point a finger at anybody in this clubhouse you can point it right at me, too. Like I said, we have to find a way to start winning games and get back in this and start rolling some wins out."

Three wins in 12 starts with Chris Sale on the mound? That's nothing short of shocking. And it's not good enough.

"You don't expect that," manager Alex Cora said. "But he's been throwing the ball well the last month. We know that's going to change. When he's on the mound, obviously he wants the team to win. I know it's very frustrating for him. You see the positives. You keep getting better. And hopefully the next start, as a team, we can get a W."

 

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