By Connor McKnight
White Sox Pre and Post Game Host
I worked very hard to avoid the use of a pun in the headline. While Chris Sale’s last name lends itself to all kinds of pun-tastic flash, he’s above that. I’m not. But while the numbers and dominance for Sale so far in 2016 are easy feats to recall, I’ve found the timing of Sale’s starts lately to be fortuitous at the least.
On May 1st, with the Sox having lost the first two games in Baltimore and just barely scraping out a win in the third game, Sale took the mound and threw perhaps his ‘worst’ game of the year. He went just 5.1 innings, the shortest start in his first nine and battled his command. He walked four, again, the most this year. The offense picked him up and plated five runs in the fifth off Ubaldo Jimenez. Robin Ventura saw his opportunity to lift his Ace and leave things to a red-hot bullpen.
Since then, Sale’s been doing all the work on his own and helping his guys along the way.
On May 13th in New York, the White Sox had just left Texas. They’d lost two of three. The bullpen had been battered by the Rangers offense, a 12-inning ballgame and a rain delay that lasted over an hour. The Sox had been hit. They’d been worked and they’d been tired out.
With an off-day scheduled for May 12th, the club finally had a chance to sleep. On May 13th, the bullpen just watched. Sale turned in second complete game of the year and yielded just one run, a homer to Chase Headley, en route to his third-best game of the year (a 77 via Bill James’ Game Score metric on BaseballReference.com).
Yes, the Sox lost the next two in New York. They were close games (2-1, 7-5) and were never out of things. Ventura was able to keep the bullpen healthy. Imagine if Sale hadn’t gone nine.
May 19th, found the White Sox in a rut. Losers of their last four games and in danger of suffering their first sweep of the season, Chris Sale took the hill against the Astros. Houston, at that point, was a team slowly finding their footing after an offseason of expectation was melted away by the 15-24 record they carried into US Cellular Field.
Sale played stopper that night. Nine innings, nine strikeouts, one run. His ninth win. When the night was over, the Sox had still lost six of their last eight; both wins with Sale’s name attached.
Tonight, with the Cleveland Indians just 2.5 games behind the Sox in the Central, Sale has a chance to be a spring board for the first time since mid-April. Sure, a win get’s Sale to an MLB-leading 10th. I’ll bet you he doesn’t care whether that win gets added to his name. In fact, I know he doesn’t. All he wants, at the end of the night, is for that lead to be 3.5. To give Jose Quintana and his guys a chance to take three of four on Wednesday.
If that means he gets #10, so be it. If that means the W gets plastered on another pitcher’s record, fine.
The role of Ace takes on many shapes throughout the season. Sale has very nearly played all of them already. He’s been the best pitcher in the American League (and it isn’t all that close) and with the exception of this Clayton Kershaw gentleman with the Dodgers, no one has had a better start.
Sale has had good starts to a season before. He’s had good middles. He’s had good ends. That end, however, has never taken place later than October 3rd. That was 2010–Sale’s rookie year. He logged a two-inning save that night. His fourth and final of the year. The Sox finished 88-74, six games behind the Twins in the AL Central.
For Sale, this year won’t be a true success unless his team is playing much later than October 3rd.