The 2015 White Sox roster is loaded with question marks at several positions and key players have underperformed at others. The club is headed in the wrong direction again, on pace for 92 losses.
Chris Sale falls into none of those categories.
While little has gone according to plan for the 2015 White Sox, who reside in last place in the American League Central despite a massive offseason overhaul, Sale has been everything the club had hoped he’d be and more.
On pace for his fourth straight All-Star appearance and perhaps his first start in the Midsummer Classic, Sale will attempt Tuesday to tie Pedro Martinez’s major league record for most consecutive starts (eight) with at least 10 strikeouts.
“It’s crazy,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “The people he’s getting compared to are royalty in our game and the kind of stuff nobody ever thinks is going to get matched again. He’s able to go out and have that stretch that he’s having, it’s impressive.”
It’s even more impressive given all that has occurred around him this season. Despite playing in front of a defense that has produced a majors-low minus-54 Defensive Runs Saved and an offense that has scored 3.47 runs per game and runs into too many outs, Sale has largely been unaffected.
He heads into Tuesday’s opener of a two-game series at the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 with a 3.02 ERA and an average of 12.18 strikeouts per nine innings.
Sale -- whose record-tying streak of consecutive starts with at least 12 strikeouts ended at five Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins -- has struck out 85 batters over his last seven starts.
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Currently tied with Martinez, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, Sale would become only the second pitcher to ever post 10 strikeouts in eight straight starts if he accomplishes the feat Tuesday. Martinez had streaks of seven and eight consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts in 1999 for the Boston Red Sox.
As pitching coach Don Cooper notes, Sale’s dominance is nothing new. He has averaged at least nine strikeouts per nine innings in each of his four as a starting pitcher. But Sale’s strikeouts increased to 10.8 per nine in 2014 when he was 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA for an 89-loss team and he’s improved his whiff rate again this season. Cooper believes it’s how Sale has handled himself on the mound in spite of things out of his control that has benefitted him most.
“A big thing we’re seeing over the years is more maturity, more keeping his emotions and head in check,” Cooper said. “When the control tower is working he is really good because of the efficiency, his focus his commitment. When he gets flustered or angry -- sometimes somebody gets a hit and he gets pissed -- he wants to go to a level that I think loses that efficiency. He’s able now to control his emotions and control his starts and commitment to each pitch.”