BOSTON – When the decade began for the Boston Red Sox, their starting rotation included Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz. Over the course of the decade, the rotation has featured a number of interesting pitchers, including Tim Wakefield, Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Rick Porcello.

But one pitcher has stood out among all of them (and he has done so with one of the shortest Boston tenures so far). He stood out above Lester’s early dominance in the decade. He stood out above Wakefield’s legacy of class and Beckett’s legacy of fried chicken. He stood out above Porcello’s 2016 Cy Young Award. That man is Chris Sale.

It was tough for me to choose between Sale and Lester to determine who the best Red Sox pitcher of the decade was. Even though Lester was exceptional and has been solid with the Chicago Cubs (Boston still should have signed him in the 2014 off-season) since his trade, it is hard to deny what Sale has done for the Red Sox. For a long stretch, Sale was the most dominant pitcher Boston had since Pedro Martinez. He was even more dominant than 2007 Beckett!

Coming to Boston after the 2016 season with the Chicago White Sox in free agency, Sale immediately electrified Fenway Park and carved out a #SaleDay niche for himself as many tuned into his games to see how many strikeouts he could record or if he could pull off a no-hitter. His lanky, bizarre energy had never been seen before with the club and he became one of the crucial pieces of the juggernaut Boston built to win the 2018 World Series. During that unforgettable ‘18 season, Sale opened the season and closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the final inning of the World Series with three mind-blowing strikeouts, including the final one, which brought the villain Manny Machado to his knees.

In 2017, Sale posted a 17-8 record with a 2.90 earned run average and a league leading 308 strikeouts. His WHIP was an astonishing 0.970 as Sale finished ninth in American League MVP voting and second in Cy Young voting (he should have had the award for best pitcher instead of Corey Kluber, to be honest). His WHIP was even better in 2018 with a 0.861 rate. He was 12-4 with a 2.11 earned run average and 237 strikeouts, even in spite of sidelining injuries. Last year, he finished fourth in Cy Young voting and twenty-second in the MVP race.

So far this year, Sale is 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA, 1.086 WHIP, and 218 strikeouts, but with better run support and fewer injuries, it would be a different story. Obviously, that is part of the narrative and it is why he is so neck and neck with Lester. But without these, he would be the runaway winner of Boston’s best pitcher of the decade.

Image via Wikimedia Commons / Keith Allison