A late fade took some of the shine off Chris Sale's first season in Boston, but he was excellent for most of the year, finishing as a top-three pitcher in terms of earned 5x5 fantasy value. The lefty didn't just add back to his strikeout rate; he posted the highest K/9 of his career (12.9), boosted by 18 double-digit strikeout performances. He also had the sixth-lowest walk rate among qualified starters and kept the home runs in check at home, resulting in the best FIP among all pitchers with at least 70 innings. Sale's consistency over the years and (surprising) durability should keep him near the top of starting pitcher rankings in 2018. The only real question is: where does he fit in among the entire player universe? A case can be made for anywhere in the 10-25 range, even though he pitches in a tough division, as he has the tools to be the most valuable pitcher in fantasy baseball in 2018.
Sale will start the Red Sox's Opening Day matchup with the Rays, Ian Browne of MLB.com reports. This comes as little surprise, as the southpaw was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball last season. Sale produced a 2.90 ERA to go with a career-best 308 strikeouts in 2017. He'll take the hill opposite Rays ace Chris Archer to kick off the 2018 campaign.
Sale allowed four runs on five hits, three walks and two hit batsmen while striking out six over five innings in Monday's start against the Phillies. "One thing that really pisses me off is command," Sale told John Tomase of WEEI.com. "Walking guys, hitting guys with breaking balls. That kind of stuff can't happen." Control is Sale's calling card -- he owns a career 5.12 K/BB mark -- but he didn't have it Monday. His fastball was fine, but the game-plan was to focus on his secondary offerings and the command was not there. He'll have another 10 days in camp to work on it and one more start before he presumably takes the ball Opening Day against the Rays.
Sale allowed two hits without a walk while striking out seven over five scoreless innings in Wednesday's start against the Twins. This was Sale's second Grapefruit League start, but he's done plenty of work in intrasquad games and in other controlled environments. "Today I was able to change speeds and command the ball," Sale told Jenn McCaffrey of MassLive.com. "I felt like today was one of my better days overall in terms of my command and throwing strikes. In, out, up, down type of stuff." Both hits Sale allowed were one-out triples, which gave him an opportunity to get out of jams, which he did expertly. The left-hander got his pitch count up to 53 and will have two more spring starts before he presumably takes the ball Opening Day against the Rays.
Sale allowed one run on two hits without a walk while striking out five over four innings in Friday's start against the Marlins. Sale was making his first Grapefruit League start after ramping up in minor-league games. The Red Sox and Sale agreed that the pitcher would take a slower approach this spring, and the results were as good as Boston hoped. He was mostly dominant and left after throwing 58 pitches.
Sale faced 15 batters and threw 52 pitches over four innings in a controlled minor-league game, Nick Friar of WEEI.com reports. Sale is taking on a more gradual pace this spring relative to last year, when he said he was in midseason form too early. That led to a fade down the stretch, when he posted a 4.09 ERA over his final 11 starts. The goal is to have him strong from April through October.