It's a shame Ronald Belisario blew the save on Monday night, because it would've been nice for the postgame conversation to center around Chris Sale's gutsy (or erratic) six innings. While he spent most of the night working his way around a lot of traffic on the basepaths, he had a strange energy about him before the first baserunner reached.
In the first inning, He looked like he overthew his way into falling behind Steve Pearce, and he provided more evidence of an adrenaline overload with his reaction to ball four:
This was the second batter of the game. Perhaps Sale really wanted to strike out Pearce, who is the brother of Sale's teammate at Lakeland Senior High School in Florida, but it was strange to see flashes of Pissed Sale that early, and his start never normalized. The next batter, Adam Jones, went deep, and Sale and the Orioles decided they'd white-knuckle it the rest of the way.
Assuming the Brooks data holds upon its revision, Sale's fastball was down a tick from his previous three starts, although he threw harder as the game proceeded. He also went to his slider nearly as often as his change, which is something he's tried to avoid this season.
Some of the Orioles' success was due to simple regression -- he's not going to allow a 17 OPS+ all season. However, Sale didn't seem to have his best stuff, especially early on. The Orioles only swung and missed eight times, which was a low for a Sale start this year. Throw in some bad batted-ball luck and a couple suboptimal efforts behind him, and he basically spent the entire evening on the defensive.
Yet he limited Baltimore to just two runs over six innings despite allowing 13 baserunners. Sale seemed to think he was on the hook for a third run during his final battle against Pearce with two outs in the sixth.
Had the bullpen held the lead, we probably could've heard more about Sale's off-kilter night, and the thought process behind the departures in outcomes, pitch selections and reactions.
While I'm GIF'ing
Both halves of the third inning brought to mind a question I fielded on the podcast about Conor Gillaspie's defense. He grades out as a solidly below-average defender, but since he's not a butcher, it's difficult to get a feel for the degrees of shortcomings.That part requires a greater context, and unfortunately for Gillaspie, his context features a number of spectacular glove guys at the position.
When he plays head-to-head (or as close to it) against a great third baseman, the differences become more apparent.
Take Monday night, in which Gillaspie manned third for the Sox while Manny Machado, who is the league's best defensive third baseman, covered the position for the Orioles. They illustrated the differences between them over three plays in one inning.
In the top of the third, Machado saved a run with this backhand play on Jose Abreu's hard grounder:
That's a 50-50 play for a lot of third baseman, but Machado made it look well within his reach. The same thing goes for the play he made on a Dayan Viciedo bouncer to his left the very next batter.
Neither of those plays are eye-popping web gems by him. They might not even warrant mentioning if there weren't runners in scoring position, but that's just because he keeps his body under control from start to finish.
Gillaspie, on the other hand...
If he had to do it over again, he probably wouldn't have hit the ground. That looked like a result of him anticipating a harder grounder, and not because his feet wouldn't have gotten him there. Still, it highlights the difference in their first-step abilities when Gillaspie has to dive in the first place. It's not flattering to most third basemen when you compare them to Machado, but this just provides some context on how a third baseman can make more or fewer plays compared to his peers.
Then there's Jose Abreu
Gut-punch losses are easier to overlook when a key player like Abreu delivers some highlights. He went 2-for-4, driving in runs with the aforementioned groundout, a solo homer and an RBI double.
The double capped off a tense six-pitch at-bat against the three-quarter, slider-slinging Ryan Webb, which you'd think would pose a difficult matchup for Abreu. But he laid off three different low-and-away pitches, and he punctuated two of his takes with a bat-slap.
Any time you see hand hitting the bat, it brings back bad memories of Carlos Quentin. But Quentin's fatal bat punch was a simple, reflexive act of frustration, whereas this is ... I don't know. He doesn't do it with every take or checked swing, and he does it with varying degrees of intensity. For instance, the first GIF looks like it captures Abreu reprimanding his bat for needing to be restrained from a bad slider, but the second GIF is more of a pat on the butt.
This may not be worth figuring out over the course of days, weeks or months, but it's better than talking about the ninth inning. Hopefully we'll see more of these either way, because that means he's not offering at garbage pitches.
It took less detective work to determine that Abreu hit Wei-Yin Chen's pitch a long, long way in the sixth inning -- although I was surprised by the delayed reaction of both broadcast booths.
Hawk Harrelson and Gary Thorne seemed to take their cues from Adam Jones, who tracked the ball with a moderate gait until he ran out of room with about 20 feet of air travel remaining. Their reaction made me second-guess my own, because it sounded like he crushed it off the bat.
If only they looked to the guy sitting behind the third-base dugout, because he knew what was up.