It's getting increasingly easy to root for Chris Sale independent of what the White Sox are doing.
His torrid stretch of pitching reached record levels on Friday night, as he became just the third pitcher in MLB history to strike out 12 batters or more in five straight starts. Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are the others, and when you look at what they did over their five-game runs, Sale fits comfortably in between two Hall of Famers (the last column is average game score):
The problem is that even Sale's best isn't good enough for the White Sox. His offense has scored just one run in each of the last two games, and both starts are part of an eight-game losing streak. Friday night's loss was especially painful -- Sale struck out 14 Rangers over eight shutout innings, allowing just a pair of singles and zero runners in scoring position, only to see David Robertson give up two in the ninth.
With Jose Abreu well off the pace he set last year, Sale is really the only reason to lock in on a White Sox game right now.
NEW RULE: Only watch the White Sox while Chris Sale is pitching.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) June 20, 2015
He could get pissy about the lack of help, but instead he's irritated about questions that knock his teammates:
Yet when asked if he feels like he has to pitch a shutout to win, Sale stopped the question right in its tracks. Sale not only knows how to take charge of opposing offenses, he can handle leading questions as well.
"Easy now; that’s kind of a crappy question to ask, really," Sale said. "You think I’m going to say something bad about one of my teammates, you’re dead wrong. We have a bunch of fighters in here. We have guys that come in here every single day and play as hard as they can, plain and simple. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
"Tonight it didn’t and it hasn’t for a few games. But that doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything different or going to point a finger at anybody. We’re a team, we’re a family and we’re going to move forward. This is going to stop. It is. We’re going to win a game. And from that point forward, we’re going to win some more games."
You can poke fun at a few things in that response, but it's better to admire the overall message. The Condor is equal parts Cy Young and Mother Teresa right now, and I'd make a "Cal-cutter" joke if only he threw one.
Sale deserves better, and there's a chance that he could get it at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
Back at the start of June, I guessed that Sale would be the Sox' lone All-Star representative. He still has a few starts in between now and then, but with David Robertson's save percentage slipping to "pedestrian" status, it would take a crisis to keep him out of the mix.
The bigger question from here might be: Should Sale start the All-Star Game for the American League? One local favorite thinks so.
He should start the ASG for the AL. Best pitcher in the league right now. https://t.co/v9071T8YRp— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 20, 2015
Law's not alone among objective parties (an MLB Network analyst who I can't recall with certainty said the same), because Sale is forging his own case outside of those pesky wins.
Sonny Gray and Dallas Keuchel both have the best traditional arguments -- eight wins, more than 100 innings, and ERAs hovering around 2.00. Chris Archer is right behind them (8-4. 2.18 ERA over 95 innings). Sale, on the other hand, is 6-3 with a 2.74 ERA over 88⅔ innings.
However, Sale just took over the lead league in strikeouts from Archer with his 14 K's on Friday. While it's only a three-strikeout lead, Sale has a more distinct edge in strikeout rate (12.1 strikeouts per nine innings; Archer's at 11.0).
And then you look at where Sale ranks over the last month:
- ERA: 1.19 (2nd)
- IP: 45.1 (1st)
- Strikeouts: 75 (1st; Archer is second with 54!)
K/9 IP: 14.9 (1st)
- K/BB: 10.71 (1st)
- BAA: .139 (1st)
- OBP: .185 (1st)
- SLG: .222 (3rd)
- OPS: .407 (1st)
And you can see why Ned Yost might want him out there to set the tone -- especially when home field advantage for the World Series is on the line, and the guy on the mound has the entire Royals' roster to carry.