BOSTON -- Freak-out city needs to chill.
There are at least 24 issues, things, concerns, matters, and worries for Red Sox fans to dwell on and grumble about. A handful are actually reasonable.
The injuries are mounting, for example. Home runs are few and far between. The Yankees are approaching, though still a long shot to take the American League East.
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Whatever you want to steam about, just make sure Chris Sale isn’t on your list. Forget him.
This just in: Sale has been the best pitcher in the American League arguably all year, even if the Indians’ Corey Kluber may now win the Cy Young. Sale’s performance in Tuesday’s 9-4 loss to the Blue Jays was poor, but he’d given up four home runs in a game just once before. The chances he gives up that many gopher balls in a playoff game are slim to none.
The ultimate reason not to ride the freak-out train over Sale is this: if he actually is in trouble, if he’s actually in a bad rut that carries over into the postseason, the Sox are sunk. Done. Finished.
Sale is not a variable. He is not an X-factor. More than anyone else on the Sox and arguably any pitcher anywhere, he is a given — and has been, and must continue to be.
If the sun explodes, we’re all going to go up in flames without North Korea's help. Sale is the Red Sox’ sun. Do you sit around every day worrying about the sun exploding?
You don’t become a given unless you’re the best of the best. And when you’re the best of the best, a bad outing or a rough stretch doesn’t change the overall outlook.
“You can’t have a good day at work every day,” Sale said Tuesday after allowing five runs in five innings. “Unfortunately, what I do is amplified because we’re here and we’re in the thick of it, but I’ve got to win games and I’m not doing that. And I’m as frustrated as anybody on the planet right now about that. You pick your head up, you pick your teammates up and show up tomorrow ready to go."
The Sox could get by without Eduardo Nunez. Maybe, just maybe, they can get by with Dustin Pedroia limited by his left knee.
But Sale? No way. You have to assume he’s going to pitch like he has most of the year: excellently, and if not that, quite well. He’s the starting point on the map, and there’s no map without him.
Sale didn’t hit his spots Tuesday. That’s happened more often in the second half than it did in the first half. But he’s still striking out the world, still throwing strikes.
If rest is the thing Sale needs to regain some of his command, he has a chance to gain a ton now. The Division Series doesn’t start until Oct. 5, next Thursday.
Not that there's a sense Sale needs anything in specific to be effective moving forward. He's not going to be parked in front of video tape on Wednesday.
"A lot of what I do is based off of feeling," Sale said, "so no, I’m not a big fan of looking at my mistakes."
Neither Sale nor Sox manager John Farrell indicated whether the plan is to get Sale back in a game during the regular season — assuming the Sox lock up the division and don’t need Sale to pitch in Game No. 162. But the chances of the Sox exposing him to the Astros seem very low.
Even on Tuesday, Farrell noted how familiarity can play into Sale’s off nights, and fostering familiarity for the Astros would seem a poor play. Whether familiarity really is the issue or it’s just a matter of command is hard to say definitively, but if the Sox are going with the former line of thinking, they should stick to it.
"I think there is familiarity," Farrell said. "When you look at the last dozen starts, we’ve been pretty exclusively in the American League East. He’s been a guy we’ve lined up against all divisional opponents. So whether it’s five or six starts against New York, four against Toronto, four or five more against Tampa, that’s familiarity within a division. When he’s had a time gap against an individual team, he’s certainly had the upper hand. There might be some familiarity."