By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Chris Sale is having a tough time.
Just six months after achieving the ultimate glory by recording the final three outs of a World Series clincher, and a little over three months since inking a lucrative contract extension, the prideful left-hander is flabbergasted at his performance overall in 2019.
Sale allowed three homers, five earned runs, nine hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch while striking out just five Blue Jays over 5.2 innings en route to a 6-3 loss in Toronto on Wednesday night. Afterwards, Sale had no explanation, other than to say he is embarrassed.
“I’m supposed to be a big part of this team and a big part of this pitching staff, and I’ve probably been the biggest crutch,” Sale told reporters. “So that’s another pretty crappy part is I know who I am and who I’m supposed to be for this team, and I haven’t even been anything close. You know, I’m what, 3-8? That’s absolutely embarrassing. That’s not what I need to be, and that’s not who I need to be for this team. On a team like this, they need me to be better, and I haven’t been there for ’em. So I’m standing before you as frustrated as I’ve ever been, just being honest.”
Sale, indeed, is 3-8 on the season, to go with a 4.04 ERA. At this same point last year, Sale was 8-4 with a 2.41 ERA, well on his way to establishing himself as the Cy Young favorite before a shoulder injury slowed him down considerably in August and September.
This year, the Red Sox are just 6-12 in his starts. In his first two seasons with the Red Sox, he compiled a 29-12 record and a 2.56 ERA. The Red Sox were 35-17 in games he started
If that 2019 number were inversed, and if the Red Sox were instead 12-6 in games started by Sale, then they’d probably be hanging tight in the AL East race. Instead, they’re left scrambling trying to figure out what exactly is going wrong as the season heads toward the All-Star break.
“I know he’s disappointed. We’re going to keep working, obviously. Now he has a long break, and hopefully when he comes back we’ll get him back on track,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s our ace. He’s our number one. When he pitches well, we don’t hit. When we hit, he doesn’t pitch well. It is a combination of both. We’re a team. We’re not going to point fingers, like it’s on him or the offense or whatever. I just think collectively, whenever he pitched in the first part of the season, we weren’t good.”
While the show of support from the manager is likely appreciated, Sale is too honest and forthright to try to find any silver lining in his 2019 self.
“I mean, I’m not locating fastballs, my changeup’s terrible, breaking ball is hit or miss. I just haven’t been myself for a while, and it’s obviously frustrating,” Sale told reporters. “I hate being short with you guys, but … it’s the same thing over and over. I got nothing new for you. It’s just, I haven’t been good, I gotta find a way to get better. It’s about as frustrated as I’ve ever been playing baseball.”
As for the explanation, Sale said he feels healthy, but he’s just not locating his pitches where he’d like.
“Just too many hittable pitches. Just not good,” he said.
“I don’t know. I mean, I just gotta throw more strikes, better quality pitches. I don’t know. I just haven’t been good recently. Just gotta find a way,” he added.
“Because I’m throwing the ball over the middle of the plate. You look at the pitches that they’re hitting and doing major damage on, they’re up out over. So just gotta find a way to execute better when I need to,” he also said.
The missed locations may be the easiest explanation for the three homers allowed on Tuesday, but the why and the how of Sale’s 2019 season on the whole remains a mystery. His velocity has been normal, after he began the year throwing a little on the slower side. Tuesday night notwithstanding, he’s still striking out batters at his normal rate. His walks are up just a tick but nothing that’s necessarily alarming.
It all appears to be there, except for the results. Opponents are hitting .222 against him, up from .181 a year ago and .208 in 2017. They’re also slugging .404 against him, a major jump from last year (.288). Sale has had the stuff to get batters out, as evidenced by the fact that he’s recorded 10 or more strikeouts in 10 of his 18 starts. But he’s missed, he’s missed over the plate, and opponents have made him pay.
In that sense, the issues would seem on the surface level to be fixable. Yet, as Sale himself mentioned, he’s stated the same thing numerous times this season. If it hasn’t been solved yet, then it’s difficult to foresee what might finally make the difference to effect change going forward.
With the Red Sox sitting 11 games out of first place and trailing the Yankees by 12 games in the loss columm, it’s too late for a second-half turnaround from Sale to power the Red Sox to a division crown. But with Boston now sitting 2.5 games out of the second wild-card spot, the Red Sox will absolutely need a more effective Sale in July and August if they are to even reach the postseason at all.