Chris Sale hasn’t picked up a win since July 2, when he improved to 14-2 with some help from the offense against Houston. Since then, he’s been 0-4 with a 4.43 ERA.
As Jose Quintana tells us year after year after year, winlessness isn’t automatically the fault of a pitcher. Sale’s first six chances at his 15th win all fell flat, and they could be evenly divided in terms of fault:
- David Robertson: Blown leads against the Mariners and Royals.
- The offense: No-shows against the Cubs and Tigers.
- Sale himself: A dud against the Braves, and a missed start due to a knife attack.
His outing on Sunday -- another loss, this one to the Miami Marlins -- falls into the last group. He gave up five runs on eight hits over 6⅔ innings, which is bad enough. It’s worse that the Sox lost by one run, and one of those Marlins runs scored due to Sale falling asleep. He forgot to cover home on a sac bunt that moved Adeiny Hechavarria to third, and Hechavarria seized the day by scoring without a throw.
Sale didn’t excuse himself for his dereliction of duties...
"That was just a brain fart, really," Sale said. "I got to be at home plate for that."
... but he wasn’t exactly hard on himself, either. Based on the last month or so, failing to take care of business around the plate is less of a brain fart and more of a bad habit.
Let’s go back to Aug. 3 against Detroit, when Jose Abreu made an over-the-shoulder basket catch, then wheeled around to make a one-hop throw home to get Victor Martinez for the double play.
You can see Sale on the replay providing Dioner Navarro a bit of helpful body english ...
... but that’s not where he’s supposed to be. He should be behind the catcher anticipating a throw home, because if the ball gets past Navarro, Nick Castellanos comes around third to score and make it a 2-0 game. Navarro converted on a favorable hop, but some of us were aware of the risk.
We can see what happens when Navarro isn’t able to come up with a hop. In Sale’s dud against Atlanta on July 8, he didn’t back up Navarro on a relay home, which allowed Jeff Francoeur to take third after his double.
The pertinent part:
Steve Stone started his analysis with"Chris Sale was not backing up the plate, and it cost him a base." Chip Caray called it out on his live play ("Ball gets away, Sale didn’t back it up and Francoeur is all the way around to third base..."). The extra 90 feet didn’t matter, as Sale gave up another two-out double to Adonis Garcia.
So there’s three documented instances of Sale forgetting to back up the catcher over a period where he has zero wins. Perhaps these moments weren’t going to register until he paid the price, and Hechavarria’s run finally made that happen.
It’s also possible this is a longer-running problem, but certain things are forgivable when pitching at an elite level, like Greg Maddux’s indifference toward baserunners and Jon Lester’s problems throwing to first. I’d also be fine if you lumped in these "brain farts" with the previous freakouts in Sale’s larger war with his immaturity. Either way, when Sale has more guys scoring (or threatening to score) on his watch, then the flaw comes into focus and becomes something in need of addressing.
It’s especially noticeable if Sale isn’t the best pitcher on the White Sox anymore, and Quintana can become more of a threat to that title if he can stand toe-to-toe with Corey Kluber tonight. I wrote before that Kluber looks to me like the Cy Young contender in the best position. The win valuations give him a slight edge, while Sale and Quintana appear to be a coin toss behind him.
The White Sox might not be a threat to Cleveland in the standings, but they can still put a dent in this race.