Just like that, the American League Cy Young race is a lot more interesting. And that potential showdown between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians in the first round of the playoffs? Even more interesting now that the Indians have rocked Chris Sale for the second time in a month.
Sale has been the Cy Young front-runner all season, a clear favorite over Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, but the Indians pounded him for seven hits and seven runs over just three innings in a 13-6 victory over the Red Sox on Thursday. Back on Aug. 1, the Indians roughed Sale up for seven runs in five innings. Those are Sale’s two worst starts within a season in which he has gone at least seven innings in 19 of 26 turns and is on pace for 323 strikeouts.
In beating Sale up twice, however, the Cleveland offense has given Kluber a puncher’s chance at the award:
Sale: 14-6, 2.88 ERA, 178⅓ IP, 131 H, 35 BB, 253 SO, .200 AVG, .253 wOBA
Kluber: 12-4, 2.65 ERA, 152⅔ IP, 107 H, 32 BB, 208 SO, .195 AVG, .256 wOBA
Against the Indians, Sale has a 14.63 ERA in two outings while allowing a 1.057 OPS. Against everyone else, he has a 2.32 ERA and .536 OPS allowed. Sale led Kluber in all major categories before Thursday, but now Kluber holds a minimal edge in ERA and their other rate stats are pretty identical, including their off-the-charts strikeout rate, with at Sale at 36.0 percent and Kluber at 35.4. The big difference really comes down to Kluber spending a month on the disabled list and Sale having thrown 26 more innings.
The other difference comes between how the two leading statistical sites have measured their value:
Sale’s WAR will going down a couple tenths after Thursday’s outing, so Kluber will actually lead him in Baseball-Reference WAR, although the margin is essentially irrelevant. The two versions of WAR are calculated a bit differently, with Baseball-Reference centered around actual runs allowed while FanGraphs focuses on strikeouts, walks and home runs, things more directly under the control of the pitcher.
As John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information points out, if you value performance down the stretch, then that swings in favor of Kluber as well. Since Memorial Day, Kluber has a 1.87 ERA while Sale stands at 3.25. I don’t think it should matter when you compile your stats — a game in April counts the same as a game in August — but in a close race, maybe a strong finish for Kluber will influence a few voters in his direction.
Anyway, even with Sale’s advantage in games started, innings, strikeouts and wins, this race has certainly tightened up. Consider this as well: Sale has a history of pitching worse the final two months in his career as a starter.
Pre-August: 64-28, 2.68
August on: 20-25, 3.69
Of course, the Cy Young race could just end up being the prelude to the bigger picture: The two aces starting against each other in the division series. The last time the top finishers in a Cy Young race faced off was back in the 2007 American League Championship Series. That was another Red Sox-Indians matchup, and eventual Cy Young winner CC Sabathia battled runner-up Josh Beckett in Games 1 and 5. Neither game was memorable as the Red Sox twice beat up Sabathia in 10-3 and 7-1 victories.
Obviously, if we get to this matchup, Sale will have to answer questions about the Indians twice roughing him up. Most likely, it means nothing. Then again, Sale’s worst outing of 2016 also came against the Indians, when they scored six runs off him in 3⅓ innings. Do they own the left-hander? It seems unlikely they’ve figured out some secret way to beat Sale, or that they’re in his head or something like that. But we also can’t say with 100 percent certainty that these defeats are simply random events. Maybe the Indians do know something.
I guess we’ll find out in October.
The best baseball brawl in years. Brawls are bad! Baseball players shouldn’t fight! The Tigers and Yankees went at it with three bench-clearing incidents and eight ejections and one angry Miguel Cabrera:
Things got HEATED in the Yankees-Tigers game. https://t.co/6YBatav5jo
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 24, 2017
Andrew Marchand has the lowdown on the Motor City Brawl. The big concern for Yankees fans is the punches Gary Sanchez threw, which will certainly lead to a suspension of at least a few games and maybe more.
Like most of these baseball incidents, it was mostly the circle of life: You hit our guy, so we have to hit your guy, rinse and repeat. Maybe Cabrera, in the midst of the worst season of his career, was just unleashing five months of frustration when he attacked Austin Romine. As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, “Take it from this Tigers fan: That’s the best contact Miggy’s made in awhile.”
World Series preview? The Nationals and Astros completed a fun series, with the Nationals winning 5-4 in 11 innings and taking two of three in the series. The good news for the Nationals is that Stephen Strasburg looked sharp in his second start since coming off the DL, fanning seven in six scoreless innings. The bad news: Another blown lead in the ninth inning, this time Brandon Kintzler letting a 3-1 lead slip.
Note as well that Sean Doolittle, after getting saves in seven of his eight previous appearances (and mopping up a 6-2 win in the other) worked the eighth inning instead of the ninth. From a strategic standpoint, it actually made sense for Dusty Baker to use Doolittle to start the eighth as it turned Carlos Beltran around to his weak side and set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Brian McCann. So was this just a one-game experiment, Baker seeing what happens if he matches up the late innings instead of just using his relievers in pre-defined roles, regardless of the opposition lineup? Pay attention to how Baker uses the bullpen this final month.