Chris Sale Has Rediscovered His Ace Form in Atlanta

Once a clear Hall-of-Famer, Chris Sale's career has been derailed by injuries. His tenure in Atlanta has seen him rediscover his ace form.

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 8: Chris Sale #51 of Atlanta Braves pitches during the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Truist Park on May 8, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

Chris Sale has become the No. 1 starter that the Braves didn’t know they would need this season, as he’s turned back the clock to his All-Star form from years past.

When Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos made the decision to deal Vaughn Grissom, his organization’s top young bat at the time, to the Red Sox in exchange for an aging, oft-injured Chris Sale just before the calendar flipped to 2024, reactions around Atlanta were mixed, with most being cautiously optimistic.

Sale was unquestionably one of the most dominant starting pitchers of the entire 2010s. Yet, he had logged a grand total 151 innings during this decade at the time the trade went down. Just over 100 of those frames – the most he’s had since 2019 – came last season. After multiple injuries over prior years, the swing-and-miss stuff was still there (29.4 K%), but a 4.30 ERA was the second-highest of Sale’s career as was his 1.13 WHIP.

The rational hope was that Sale would at least bring depth and stability to the middle of the rotation. He’s already done so much more than that.

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Paying Off From the Start

Anthopoulos was certainly taking a risk, but the Braves had learned the hard way in each of the last two years regarding a lack of rotational depth come playoff time. Unfortunately, the Braves lost expected 2024 ace Spencer Strider (elbow) for the season after only two starts, making that foresight by Anthopoulos pay off right out of the gate.

Sale got his first campaign in a Braves uniform going with back-to-back starts against last year’s NLCS competitors. His season debut came in Philadelphia, where he limited the Phillies to two runs while striking out seven over 5.1 innings. Sale basically repeated that effort with another 5.1 innings against the Diamondbacks in Atlanta on April 7, giving up two runs and striking out six.

Sale stretched things out in his next start at Miami. However, after allowing five earned runs on six hits and three walks against one of the weaker offenses in the league, there were understandable questions. Sale has answered them.

Becoming An Ace Once Again

In four starts since the loss to the Marlins, which remains his only one of the season so far, Sale has faced four different clubs that currently hold winning records. At the time of writing, three of them rank among the top half of MLB in runs per game, and two stand in the top eight.

Sale has gone 4-0 during that stretch, cruising to a 1.80 ERA and 0.88 WHIP across 25.0 innings. Perhaps even more impressive is his ridiculous 32-to-3 K/BB. His elite metrics, including a 32.3 K%, 16.2 SwStr%, 40.5 Chase%, and 69.0 Contact% (79.5 Z-Contact%), provide further detail on just how dominant Sale has been lately.

Fittingly, Sale put an emphatic stamp on his reemergence when he faced the Red Sox – a franchise with which he spent seven years and won a World Series – this past Wednesday night in Atlanta. The 35-year-old lefty completely stifled the Sox, shutting them out over six frames while giving up six hits and a walk alongside a season-high 10 punchouts. It was Sale’s first double-digit strikeout game since September 16 of last year and fourth since 2019.

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Leading the Way

Even minus Strider, the Braves feature a strong rotation that includes, in addition to Sale, All-Stars like Max Fried and Charlie Morton as well as upstart reliever-turned-starter Reynaldo Lopez. Still, Sale is leading the way for the group. He’s tops on the club with 52 strikeouts, 11.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and a 0.98 WHIP. He trails only Lopez (1.53) in ERA at 2.95.

Sale appears to have gone back in time to regain his peak form, as his mid-90s heat is back along with his wipeout slider. He is healthy, and the move to acquire him in the offseason appears to be another brilliant one from Anthopoulos.

Atlanta is feeling the loss of Strider for sure. Any team would, as he possesses one of the most electric arms in the game. Sale is doing absolutely everything he can to fill the void though, and it’s making for one of the best early-season stories around the baseball world.

A derailed Hall-of-Fame career is back on track.