My goodness what a year 2017 was for Chris Sale. What a season for the most exciting Red Sox pitcher since Pedro. What a way to live up to expectations, and in many ways even exceed them. Chris Sale was awesome in his first year in Boston. You've seen the numbers plenty of times by now, but in case you forgot Sale went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings pitched. He led the league in innings, strikeouts, FIP, and K/9. He finished second in the Cy Young voting. He became the first pitcher to strike out 300 in the American League since 1999 (guess who). He was everything we could have realistically hoped for.
So why…why doesn't it feel that way? Look no further than October. The past two years have been two of the strangest for me as a Red Sox fan. Is this a likable group of players? Are they unlikable? Is David Price a leader? What was wrong with the clubhouse last year? We're back-to-back division champs, winning 93 games both seasons, but are 1-6 in the playoffs. And just like I said in my blog last year, what the Chris Sale era means for Boston, this is a city that demands championships.
This is the part where I mention that the early playoff exit in 2017 obviously can't be blamed entirely on Sale, even though he struggled in the second half and REALLY struggled in Game 1 of the ALDS. The Sox had plenty of problems last year. After Sale we didn't have a reliable number two starter. We missed Papi even more than we thought we would. Hanley Ramirez didn't show up. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all had "down" years. Not to mention we ran into an absolute buzzsaw in October called the Houston Astros.
So yes, Sox fans have been left wanting more lately. I think it's because we know how good we can be. Even though Sale, Betts, Price, Hanley, Bogaerts, and Craig Kimbrel have all been awesome at times, this group has yet to come through when it matters most. The good news is we are still young. The bad (?) news is we don't have all the time in the world. We are right in the middle of the "Chris Sale Era". Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz are free agents after this year. Price has the opt out. Sale and Bogaerts are free agents after next year. Mookie the year after. Time is kind of running out.
Still, Andrew Benintendi and Rafafel Devers will be around for a while, but this really all comes back to Sale. He's either our best or our second best player. The way pitchers can take over in October he might be our most important one, though. We need more from him than he gave us in ALDS Game 1. We need more from everyone come this Fall. This group is young and talented but it won't be around forever. We need to take advantage of the Chris Sale Era.