Chris Sale helped the Red Sox to win the first game of the Division Series on Saturday night by striking out eight batters in 5.1 innings and giving up only two earned runs. While these numbers do not look impressive for a pitcher of Sale’s calibre, they represent a huge relief for the Red Sox and their fans.
After getting injured in August, Sale did not pitch in the majors for the best part of a month. His first full length start since his injury was also his last of the regular season and it did not go particularly well, as he gave up three earned runs in 4.2 innings. The numbers do not seem much worse than his performance on Saturday, but this was against a poor Baltimore team rather than the Yankees in the postseason.
The majority of concern after Sale’s last regular season game was caused by his fastball velocity. His average during the game against Baltimore was just 90.21 mph, a long way off the 97.67 mph during his dominant June. Fastball velocity has also been the cause of renewed optimism around Chris Sale, with an average of 94.76 mph during Saturday’s game.
Sale still not at his best
An increase in fastball velocity will of course make a massive difference to Sale’s outcomes but his velocity is still way below what it was during his dominant middle of the season. This has meant that he has struggled to put hitters away. Even though he is still getting a lot of strikeouts, each hitter is taking up a lot more pitches than they were when he was at his best.
Part of this could be down to fatigue after a long season. Last year Sale had a disastrous postseason after throwing 214 innings in the regular season. He has also been known to tail off slightly towards the end of other seasons so that would be an obvious explanation for why he is not at his best. However, this year he has only pitched 158 innings due to his injury problems.
Sale has still only had two full length starts since his injury so he may still improve before the end of October, if the Red Sox make it past the Yankees that is. The fewer innings he has pitched this year should also mean that he is fresher than last year and we may look back on Sale’s injury as a blessing in disguise.