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Red Sox 6, Athletics 4: Why Chris Sale hasn’t been as dominant this year

Ryan Hannable
May 16, 2018 - 10:19 pm

Make no mistake about it, Chris Sale is off to a very good start this year.

The left-hander won his fourth game of the year on Wednesday, a 6-4 win over the Athletics, and has a 2.29 ERA, but he just isn’t the same pitcher as he was at this point last season.

(Click here for a complete game recap.)

Wednesday was Sale’s 10th start of the season and he’s only gone at least seven innings three times. Last year through 10 starts he went at least seven innings in all but one. 

There’s the big difference.

It’s about not having the same precise control and command. The walk totals are pretty similar to what they were this time last year — 14 walks through 10 starts last year compared to 15 walks through 10 starts this year -- but, it’s been inconsistent.

His start against the A’s was the perfect example, as he went just five innings and allowed two runs on two hits, while walking four and striking out nine. The four walks were the first time he’s done that as a member of the Red Sox. Sale had good stuff, he just wasn’t as sharp as he could be.

"I'll be honest, I felt this was probably my best fastball I've had all year in terms of the way it was coming out and the velocity behind it," Sale said. "Just wasn't able to pick up on my secondary stuff. I wasn't able to corral it all in. Just command-wise was a little bit off. It happens. You're not going to be able to go out there and pinpoint every time. I'd like to be better than I was tonight, that's for sure."

For the year, it seems like Sale has gotten into a lot more deep counts than last year, and also opposing hitters have extended at-bats with a number of foul balls. Failing to put hitters away is another reason why he’s not going as deep into games, and thus not as dominant. 

Through 10 games last year he had 101 strikeouts, this year he has 87 strikeouts. He also had eight double-digit strikeout games at this point last season, but only has three this year.

"Yeah, it just seemed like a lot of foul balls," Sale said. "My off-speed stuff wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, especially my breaking ball. I got into some old habits tonight. My arm felt good, I felt loose, I felt strong. Command was obviously erratic, but this is major league baseball. If you go out there with not your best stuff, it’s going to be tough. If you give somebody something, they’re going to take advantage of it. But my guys were there tonight to pick me up."

Wednesday he made only one real mistake, allowing a two-run home run to Marcus Semien in the fifth, which made it a 3-2 game at the time. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, as of the seven homers he’s allowed this year five have been in the third time through the order.

Some might say Sale’s not going as deep into games as an effort to preserve him for later in the season, but he’s still throwing over 100 pitches in almost all of his outings. While it may play some factor, the bigger factor is just a matter of not being as sharp. With 100 pitches last year he could get into the seventh inning and beyond.

While Sale has had a solid year to this point, there’s no question he could be even better and it all starts with putting hitters away, thus going deeper in games.

J.D. Martinez has reached base in 21 straight games, which is a career high. He homered in the first inning, his 12th of the season.

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