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The Indians Seem To Have Chris Sale's Number, And That Is Not A Good Thing For The Red Sox

Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians

Last October, the Cleveland Indians hobbled their way into the postseason with two thirds of the top of their rotation injured, and their best offensive performer from the previous year out of action for most of the season. Their ace wasn’t even physically able to take the ball in Game 1, and hadn’t pitched in nearly two weeks because of an injury. Even as one of the best teams in the American League that year, it seemed like a very, very opportune time to pounce on the Tribe.

Perhaps all of those factors got into the Red Sox’ heads. Perhaps the Red Sox underestimated the Indians. Perhaps the Indians used the fact that literally nobody — baseball fans, media, their opposition, possibly even some of their own fans — was giving them a chance in hell to win that series. We all know how that series ended; three and out for Boston. Getting swept in the postseason is one thing, but it’s how they were swept that impacted how the 2017 team would be constructed.

Riding a Cy Young award-winning season into October, Rick Porcello gave up three bombs and couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning in Game 1. Boston sent David Price to the mound in Game 2, who got rocked for five earned runs and couldn’t even make it out of the fourth inning. Some might say this was predictable, as Price’s postseason record is about as impressive as Barstool JJ’s physique. By the time Game 3 rolled around, it was up to Clay Buchholz to save the season, and you might as well have forfeited.

The Red Sox paid Price $217 million to be their ace. He had a good season for Boston in 2016, as he always does, and then he once again failed in the postseason, as he almost always does. Porcello was your Cy Young, but I don’t think anyone was labeling him as an ace, even less so after seeing him in the postseason. The Red Sox had to do something. Because, like I said, it wasn’t the fact that they got swept — it was how they got swept, as in the only competitive game they played in that series was the one that fucking Buchholz started. They needed help. They needed…Chris Sale.

Dave Dombrowski has never been shy about pulling the trigger on blockbuster deals, and he proved that once again this past winter when he flipped a haul of big-time prospects to the White Sox to bring in one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Twenty-six starts into Sale’s Red Sox career, and he leads the league in wins (14), innings (178.1), strikeouts (253), FIP (2.08), walks per nine (1.8), strikeouts per nine (12.8), and he’s second in WHIP (0.93). He’s pretty good, one might say.

Only one little problem, though. The Cleveland Indians — you might remember them as that team that swept the Red Sox last October, and are lining up to be a postseason matchup for Boston again this year — let’s just say that they see the ball really well when Sale’s on the mound. If you go by average game score, the worst and second worst starts of Sale’s 2017 season have both come against the Indians, last night being his worst start of the year.

I don’t really care much about career stats versus a specific team. At that point, you’re comparing how a pitcher performs against laundry. The rosters change year to year, so the vs. team stats are largely overblown and overanalyzed. Yes, it’s worth noting that Sale has struggled against the Indians throughout his career, but I put much more stock in Sale’s performance against the Indians in 2017 alone, which has been very bad.

Sale has made two starts against the Tribe this year and has allowed 13 earned runs on 15 hits in 8 innings. That’s a 14.63 ERA and a 2.38 WHIP in two starts against Cleveland this year. Against every other team he’s faced this season, Sale has a 2.32 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP and a 12.95 K/9 in 24 starts. I’m sure you’ve seen this theory, or possibly you’ve thought of it yourself, that the Indians must be stealing signs. I don’t buy that. Even if they were, that’s on the battery to make adjustments so that it doesn’t continue.

If you’re a Red Sox fan, should you be concerned about having the Cy Young award winner on your team for the second year in a row, who then goes out there and gets slapped around by the Indians in the postseason? It feels weird to say, but yeah. I absolutely do think that’s something you should be concerned about. How could you not be? I guess the answer to that question is that Sale is the best pitcher in the American League, although Corey Kluber is certainly making a strong case for that distinction in his own right. But if you can’t beat the Indians with Sale on the mound, then who can you beat them with?

Before these two shellackings at the hands of the Indians, the concern was that Sale had never pitched in the postseason before, and none of us knew how that was going to go. That didn’t bother me. Kluber had never pitched in the postseason before last year, and he carried a sub-one ERA into Game 7 of the World Series. Some guys can hack it in October, and some guys can’t. There’s no point in speculating how a pitcher will respond to the big spotlight until you have something concrete to dissect. With Sale, we’ve got nothing to go on other than he went from seven years of pitching for the White Sox where nobody goes to the games, to then coming to Boston where the media and fan attention is unparalleled, and he’s responded by having the best year of his career.

Sale was also asked after the game on Thursday night if he wanted to see the Indians again in October, and he said, “Hell yeah.” I didn’t really expect him to say anything other than that or something similar, but I do believe him when he says that he wants the opportunity to redeem himself against Cleveland, and he wants the postseason to be the time that he does it. By the looks of it, it would appear as though he’s going to get that chance.

Final score: Indians 13, Red Sox 6