Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Would Chris Sale's arm have fallen off by now?

Rob Bradford
October 27, 2017 - 3:33 pm

The to-do list heading into 2018 for the Red Sox doesn't figure to be a short one. When you've got a brand new manager, the chores are always going to be aplenty.

But one thing this World Series should remind us is that one task should get top billing: Find a way to get Chris Sale to the finish line.

You want the Red Sox to arrive where the Astros and Dodgers currently find themselves? Well, start with discovering a realistic path for Sale to function at his usual level when it actually counts the most. While that wasn't a reality for this 2017 team, there is a blueprint get a pitcher like Sale through October. Just ask Josh Beckett.

"That's kind of what we did. We planned for 40 extra innings in the playoffs," Beckett said. "The Red Sox never wanted us to throw more than 205 innings in the regular season because our goal every year when I was there was to not only get to the World Series, but to win it. So they would plan for us to throw 40 extra innings in the playoffs. Now they're not even asking starters to do that. Four or five innings in a playoff game is a lot for a starter now.

"Miss a start here or there. A lot of that was the training staff and the front office. They wanted us to do that. They weren't worried about winning six games in a row in May. They were more concerned with, 'OK, when we get to October, how can we have these guys as fresh as possible?' We leaned on our starting staff in the playoffs. There weren't any four or five inning starts unless you had a stinker. It was more, 'Hey, you guys, y'all are our best pitchers and you are going to go out and pitch.'"

There are always going to be outliers, with Justin Verlander serving as the most obvious one. The Astros ace continues to cruise along despite throwing a major league-leading 3,972 pitches, throwing 103 more than Sale in the regular season. This is also a guy who is the only pitcher to have thrown more than 4,200 pitches since 2001, accomplishing the feat in both 2011 and '12.

Sale is a different case. 

The Red Sox ace not only threw more pitches than at any other time in his career, but the effort level while trying to make his mark in a new city was probably something that also should have been factored in. Going back to Aug. 1, Sale's ERA stood 4.64 over 13 appearances, with the Red Sox going a modest 7-6 in those games.

There actually might be a lesson to be learned from Beckett and his run in 2007.

The Red Sox erred on the side of resting the then-27-year-old, who had finally eclipsed the 200-inning plateau the year before, but doing it with an unsightly 5.01 ERA. That '07 season, Beckett did make 30 starts -- winning 20 of them -- but ended the regular season with just 3,100 pitches. It was probably the kind of landing spot the Sox should be shooting for with Sale.

Beckett went on to throw 30 innings over four starts during the Sox' World Series run, tacking on another 390 pitches. The result were four wins, 35 strikeouts, just two walks and a 1.20 ERA.

Other than Verlander, the Astros don't have a member of their postseason starting rotation who finished the regular season with more pitches than Charlie Morton's 2,387. The Dodgers? Yu Darvish did total 3,054 thanks to his stint with Texas, but other than the Game 3 starter no starter eclipsed Clayton Kershaw's 2,521.

There are starters who can deal with the workload (which is only made heavier while trying to impress in Boston). Jon Lester, for instance, helped carry the Red Sox to the 2013 title by finishing his 38 starts with an insane (at least for this era) 4,081 pitches. But Sale seems to be trending toward what Beckett found himself to be at the same age, or maybe what Kershaw also represents. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as there is an acknowledgement from all parties involved.

"You look at how good Kershaw is right now in the playoffs and he's kind of struggled in the past a little bit with the playoffs. I think it's a lot of it is because that he's going into the playoffs throwing 240 innings and I think this year he's got [175] innings. Something like that," Beckett said. "I feel like that helps you, those extra 60 innings you have in a regular season, that can play a big role in how successful you are in October."

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