MLB

Chris Sale tests positive for COVID: How long will he out and what does it mean for Boston’s playoff chances?

The Red Sox’ hunt for the postseason has just taken a heavy hit.

MLB.com reported on Friday that ace Chris Sale, just five starts into his return from Tommy John surgery, tested positive for the coronavirus. Due to the positive test, he will miss his upcoming start on Sunday against the White Sox.

According to The Athletic, Sale is the 10th player on the team to have tested positive for the coronavirus since last Friday. Two coaches have also tested positive, while two players and a coach were deemed close contacts and have had to quarantine.

When will Chris Sale return?

The blow to the Red Sox is a major one as Sale has been dominant since returning from Tommy John surgery. In five starts, he has posted a 2.52 ERA and the team has won four times in his outings.

Due to MLB’s coronavirus protocols, Sale will be forced to sit out for at least 10 days, meaning the next game he would be eligible for will be Sept. 21 against the Mets. By the time he returns, the Red Sox will have just 11 games remaining on their schedule, which would likely limit him to only two starts.

Who will replace Chris Sale?

Who takes Sale’s place in the rotation remains uncertain. Rookie Tanner Houck is slated to start on Friday. Nick Pivetta, who is vaccinated, also tested positive for the coronavirus, but could potentially start on Saturday, according to MLB.com. If Pivetta can’t go, expect Connor Seabold to make the start. Martin Perez could face a trip to the minors to work his way back from the COVID-19 list when activated, MLB.com reported. Eduardo Rodriguez started on Tuesday and Nathan Eovaldi started on Wednesday, while Garrett Richards, a starter who has shifted to the bullpen, pitched in relief after Eovaldi on Wednesday. No other pitcher has made multiple starts for the Red Sox this season.

On top of Pivetta and Perez, several other key players are out with positive coronavirus tests. All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been out since Aug. 31 — though he is expected back shortly — and utility bat Christian Arroyo has been “hit pretty hard” by his case, Cora told MLB.com. All-Star reliever Matt Barnes has also missed time, though he is eligible to return as early as Friday.

The Red Sox find themselves in a precarious position in the Wild Card hunt. Before the start of games on Friday, they currently lead the Yankees over the first Wild Card by a game, but have seen the Blue Jays surge as of late with wins coming in nine of their past 10 contests.

Red Sox upcoming schedule

Making matters worse is an arduous upcoming schedule during Sale’s absense. Boston faces a number of tough opponents with a three-game series against the AL Central-leading White Sox starting on Friday followed by a three-game series with the Mariners starting on Monday. Seattle is only two games back of the Yankees for the second Wild Card and three back of Boston.

When the Red Sox went into the All-Star Break on July 12, they led the Rays by 1.5 games in the AL East with a 55-36 record. Since then, Boston has slid down the standings with a record of 25-26 in its last 51 games.

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