It’s almost unfathomable to me that I am writing a piece along the lines of questioning Chris Sale’s performance in 2017. Sale had been unbelievable throughout the entirety of the season thus far and seemed as though he was the distinct, clear-cut favorite to win the Cy Young, and even potentially the MVP.
Sale had been lights out, until August hit. And those thoughts you had back in June where you knew a Sale start would result in a win barring offensive production, really are now escaping us.
The towering left handed, swiss army knife of a pitcher entered July sporting an earned run average of just 2.61. And by the end of the month, he actually managed to lower it absolutely man handling the competition throughout his five starts in the month. In those starts Sale surrendered just four earned in 34.2 innings pitched. And those runs all came in the same game against the Tampa Bay Rays. In a word, Sale was immaculate on the mound through July finishing the month with an ERA of 1.04 and 56 strike outs.
Once the page on the calendar turned to August, it seemed as though Sale’s past, late season demons crawled out of their dark, dirty holes to stop his seasons dominance.
In the past two seasons, the final months have proved to be Sale’s kryptonite.
During his 2016 campaign Sale had an ERA of 4.39 in the months of September to October and in 2015 had an ERA of 4.34 for those same two months. The only difference is now it seems like his struggles are coming slightly earlier than the norm.
And something that you cannot blame this years earlier decline on is the innings pitched. So far Sale has thrown 189.2 innings and in 2016 he wasn’t far behind with 185.2.
In his first start in September, in a game that has probably meant as much, if not more than any so far on the year, Sale got porked. Under the lights in the Bronx in an attempt to split the series with the Yankees and keeping them at 4.5 games back, he looked flat, and frankly, tired, lasting just 4.1 innings and surrendering 3 solo bombs.
What this game signified to myself, and what it should signify to most Red Sox fans, is that this team has the ability to fall apart in September and choke away this lead in the American League East. If your best pitcher can falter like this, the lefty that we thought could do no wrong, than so can the remainder of the bright spots of your lineup and rotation.
Chris Sale is supposed to be the ace of this rotation that this team can rely on to halt a skid if the team is struggling. And honestly, he can. I am not saying by any means that Sale is a lost cause on the season because I don’t think this poor stretch will last. Every pitcher falls into a rut like this and it is the ones who are mentally tough enough who are able to climb out of these holes and fixate their minds on that one goal, winning every start.
But alluding back to my original question; is it time to start worrying about the Red Sox super hero, Chris Sale? You’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t think it was time to start worrying.
Those numbers that I rattled off earlier in regards to his late season starts aren’t just a thing of the past, they are proving themselves to still be a problem right now. Every championship worthy team has a dominate piece to their arsenal. Whether it is an explosive offense with the capability to take on a handful of runs in one inning, or a bullpen that can enter the game and silence an offense for the remainder of the night.
And for a while, that dominant piece to the Red Sox arsenal was Chris Sale. Sale was unhittable for a greater portion of the year and that isn’t even debatable. Again, he was even apart of a conversation to win both the Cy Young and the MVP. Something only players like Dennis Eckersley can accomplish.
And now that we are seeing Chris Sale falter in August, and technically the early portion of September, the answer is yes, we should worry about Chris Sale right now.
Truthfully, there hasn’t been much sign of improvement through August that could make you believe he is digging out of this hole right now other than against the lowly Toronto Blue Jays. But last month, and including last night, against the competition that you will NEED to beat in the playoffs if you have any hopes of advancing, Sale has choked and hasn’t earned a bout of confidence from myself.
Against Cleveland in August, Sale had given up seven earned in one game and six in the second. Against New York Sale had given up one earned in his first go-round in August, four in the following and than three with three solo shots in last night’s campaign.
Now that the team is in crunch time, we need to worry and keep a close eye on Chris Sale. He is the meat to your team’s playoff aspirations, and if that meat goes stale, than you better prepare yourself for a bitter end to 2017, Red Sox nation, and get yourselves ready for the fall.
Oh, and one more thing to remember… Notice that I didn’t list any playoff stats. That’s because he has no playoff experience, which could be another strong factor, and demise to Boston’s playoff run.
Written By: Nick Quaglia (@NickQuag)