Chris Sale is unquestionably having one of the best seasons by a Boston Red Sox pitcher, or any American League pitcher, in recent years. His absurd 12.77 K/9 ratio is the highest figure in the major leagues, and his MLB-best 2.07 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and 7.4 Fangraphs WAR affirm the notion that he is the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award and may be having the best season of any big league pitcher.
However, one pesky team that has repeatedly gotten the best of him this year is the Cleveland Indians. Sale has certainly not looked like his usually dominant self against the Indians, as he has a 14.63 ERA in his two starts against them (both in August). He gave up seven earned runs in five innings during his first start against Cleveland, but the Red Sox were able to win this game, 12-10, on a thrilling walkoff home run by catcher Christian Vazquez. The team wasn’t as prepared to compensate for Sale’s lackluster effort in his second start against Cleveland, though, as they lost 13-6 after he surrendered six earned runs in just three innings.
If you pretend that Sale’s two starts against Cleveland never happened, his solid 2.88 ERA drops to a spectacular 2.33 ERA. The problem is, it isn’t wise to ignore those two starts, as the Red Sox are likely to face the Indians to begin the 2017 MLB Playoffs. Boston currently holds the third AL playoff spot with a 73-57 record and is six games behind the AL-best Houston Astros, while Cleveland is in the second AL playoff spot with a 73-56 record. If the standings remain as they are now, Boston and Cleveland will square off in a rematch of the 2016 ALDS in which Boston was embarrassingly swept. Sale would certainly be given the ball to start Game 1 and would likely face off against fellow AL Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, who owns a 2.65 ERA on the season. While Kluber picked up a loss in his only start against Boston on August 23, he actually pitched a great game and only gave up two earned runs in 7.2 innings of work.
A lot can change between now and the end of the season, as a hot streak could push either team into first place in the AL or out of the playoff race entirely. A four-game series against the Astros to end Boston’s regular season is a prime opportunity for the Red Sox to jump ahead of Houston and possibly avoid facing the Indians in the ALDS. However, the team should be prepared for all scenarios, so they need their staff ace to perform like one no matter who the opponent is. Let’s hope that Sale can finish off the season strong and will be ready to mow down batters come playoff time.