Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chris Sale's nine-game winning streak ends vs. Indians

Chris Sale fell to 9-1 with a 6-2 loss to the Indians on Tuesday.
I had a bad feeling Chris Sale's winning streak was going to end Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians.

Sale had opened the season with nine victories in nine starts, but a couple of factors were working against him going into Tuesday. First, the nine hitters in the Cleveland batting order entered this matchup with a collective .304 career batting average against Sale.

Secondly, the Indians were getting their second look at Sale this season. The Sox ace beat Cleveland on April 9, but that was the closest Sale had come to losing a game previously this year. Sale walked off the mound after the top of the seventh inning that day, trailing 3-2. A five-run Sox rally in the bottom of the seventh allowed him to escape with a 7-3 win.

He had no such luck as he was pounded for six runs on seven hits in just 3.1 innings Tuesday. The Indians won, 6-2, behind Josh Tomlin (7-0) and have cut the South Siders' lead in the AL Central to just 1.5 games.

It was a strange outing for Sale, who had been using a "less is more" approach throughout his red-hot start. He wasn't throwing his high-90s heat as often, instead backing his fastball down into the low 90s and relying on location to get swings and weak contact early in the count. The result? Much greater efficiency and three complete games, including two in a row, albeit with fewer strikeouts.

But in this one, Sale came out firing 96 and 97 mph bullets. I thought he was overthrowing everything, frankly. His command was spotty at best, but he got through the first 2.2 innings unscathed. That's when the wheels came off.

Jose Ramirez won a 10-pitch battle with two outs in the third, working a walk. Sale was cursing himself on the mound after a 3-2 breaking ball missed well outside. He seemed to lose control of his emotions, as Francisco Lindor followed with a single, and then Mike Napoli hit a two-run triple to put the Indians up 2-1. Carlos Santana walked on seven pitches, and then former Sox infielder Juan Uribe won a nine-pitch battle with a single that scored Napoli for a 3-1 lead. Sale finally fanned Marlon Byrd to end the inning, but only after 43 pitches were required.

Things got no better in the fourth as Chris Gimenez homered to start the fourth to make it 4-1. After a strikeout, Sale walked Rajai Davis and Ramirez consecutively. An RBI hit by Lindor increased Cleveland's lead to 5-1 and ended Sale's night. Reliever Zach Putnam allowed one of the inherited runners from Sale to score, which means Sale was charged with all six runs -- or as many as he had allowed in his past seven starts combined.

The Sox had no answers for Tomlin, who allowed two runs on five hits over eight innings. He struck out six and walked just one.

It's been a rough two weeks for the Sox (27-20), who are 3-6 so far on a 10-game homestand that began with the team enjoying a five-game lead in the division. The South Siders could use a win Wednesday behind left-hander Jose Quintana, who will be opposed by Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber in a 1:10 start.

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