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Chris Sale Follows Up His Worst Start Of The Year With His Best Start Of The Year, Because Of Course He Did

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays

His last time out, Chris Sale got his shit rocked by the Cleveland Indians to the tune of seven earned runs on eight hits, two of which were homers, and the only thing I could think of after he came out of that game was, “God have mercy on the souls of the players who have to face him in his next start.” Those poor souls belonged to the unfortunate nine who found their names on Kevin Cash’s lineup card last night.

For eight innings, it was like a cat just toying with a mouse. The Rays had no chance, and at times, it was almost uncomfortable to watch. Batters just walking away from home plate on called third strikes without even an ounce of desire to protest. They just wanted to get back in the dugout as soon as possible to avoid any further embarrassment. It was truly something to behold. Sale struck out every batter in the Rays starting lineup at least once, and with Craig Kimbrel coming in to close out the ninth by striking out the side, the only pinch hitter that Cash used also struck out.

Sale and Kimbrel combined to strike out sixteen batters in all, thirteen of which belonged to Sale. It was the fifteenth time this season in 23 starts that Sale has struck out at least ten batters in a game. Since 2000, only Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez have accomplished this feat — 15 times for Pedro, and 23 times for RJ. As mentioned before, Sale has made 23 starts this year and has fifteen 10-strikeout games. In 2001 when Johnson had 23 games with at least 10 strikeouts, he recorded 17 of them through his first 23 starts, so Sale really isn’t far off Johnson’s pace. The Big Unit had six 10-strikeout games over his last 12 starts that season.

Offensively, it wasn’t a standout night for the Red Sox, but it was interesting to see that John Farrell did shuffle his lineup around in hopes of getting some other guys going. Sure, they had won six straight, but as I had highlighted after winning that sixth consecutive game, they were depending too much on role players. Guys like Eduardo Nunez, Christian Vazquez and Chris Young coming up with big hits and monster performances to propel the Red Sox to victory.

Over any winning streak by any team, yes, you’re going to need games like that where you get unexpected contributions from guys who you normally wouldn’t depend on. But if winning the World Series is the goal, then they’re going to need to get guys like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. to get it going again.

Last night’s lineup saw Nunez hitting atop the order, which was interesting since he’s provided the most pop out of anybody since he got here. Since the Red Sox traded for Nunez, he has the highest batting average (.422), slugging percentage (.822), and OPS (1.269) on the team, but the move allowed Betts to slide down to the middle of the order where he belongs. Over the seven-game winning streak, Nunez, Young and Vazquez have combined to hit .413 with a 1.224 OPS. Also over the seven-game winning streak, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, and Hanley Ramirez have combined to hit .237 with a .630 OPS. Seven-game winning streak and all of your best hitters have been dog shit. Go figure.

We’ll take it, though. The Yankees lost again, so the Red Sox once again open up a four-game lead in the AL East. The dreaded four-game lead. It seems like whenever the Yankees got a four-game lead, they lost it immediately to the Red Sox who went up four games, and then blew that four-game lead to fall a half-game back, but now they’re up four games again. It’s a fucking weird year, man. All I know is that, while I fully acknowledge that if the season ended today that Jose Altuve would win the American League MVP, Sale absolutely has to finish somewhere in the top five. He has to. I’m sure the Rays wouldn’t have an issue with that take, either.

Final score: Red Sox 2, Rays 0