South Side Morning 5: Chris Sale finding new ways to astonish

1. Imagine being Chris Sale. Imagine thinking like Chris Sale, even. Imagine reaching the pinnacle of your profession, and deciding to reinvent yourself without being forced, or having it even be suggested. Imagine developing the most coveted skill in the sport — missing bats — to the point of complete supremacy over all your peers, and then set about focusing on, and even relying on something else.

Maybe this is reading too much into Sale allowing a high-contact Angels lineup tap and fly itself out of a game for seven shutout innings Wednesday afternoon. Maybe he’ll strike 12 batters his next time out and be next to normal. It’s both entirely possible and wouldn’t detract from what he’s been doing in these last two efficiency-obsessed, weak contact outings. He’s pitching backwards and stealing strikes with a loopy slurve. He’s pounding the zone with a low-90s two seamer to get grounders, but also still maxing out near 98 mph and throwing a wipeout slider. Even while he’s reinventing himself, there are more than enough breadcrumbs to show that the old Sale is lurking around the corner.

2016 seemed like a year Sale could have his career season, simply because he was due to have it at some point, was healthy, and would have a less-awful defense. But Sale doesn’t seem content to leave things to that degree of uncertainty. The next year that sees him fail to take a step forward in his development will be his first, but this year the “development” seems to be about spreading himself around, taking up more space and innings, and making Chris Sale Day better by making it longer.

2. Robin Ventura needs to give Jose Abreu days off from the field. He has to, and frankly the level he’s been able to do it thus far is less than ideal. Jerry Sands is the only player on his bench with any regular first base experience, and represents the best way to sneak in off day for the heart of his lineup without upsetting the apple cart. Perhaps in an ideal level of roster flexibility, he’d be more active in coordinating Jimmy Rollins‘ off days so that Tyler Saladino could both spell him and cover for Todd Frazier when he spelled Abreu at first, but the Sox seem unsurprisingly hesitant to mess with the routine of their cleanup hitter that much.

Point being, the way the roster is currently set up, Ventura is going to find himself in the situation where he starts Jerry Sands, career .199/.283/.296 hitter vs. right-handers like fireballer Garrett Richards. There was a better matchup for Sands sitting on Thursday, with slowballing Jered Weaver, but this was it, this was a day game right after a night game, the game Abreu should get off from the field, and Robin, and Sands, just had to wear it. That’s how the current roster is set up.

Travis Ishikawa would be better for this situation, but has his own slate of situations for which he’s useless, and doesn’t address the larger lack of credible hitters.

3. David Robertson and Nate Jones are two guys that it’s hard to believe aren’t striking out over a batter per inning at this point in the season. Both have consistently flashed electric movement, and Jones recovered from throwing two innings Tuesday night for another appearance Thursday, where he touched 98 mph with his fastball and 89 mph on his slider.

Robin has been rigid in the past with reliever hierarchy, but early on the twin bullpen aces setup seems to suit him. Only Matt Albers and his ridiculous streak has logged more relief innings than this pair. Jones’ ability allows Ventura to triage high-leverage opportunities without the anxiety of firing his best bullet, and Robertson’s appearance with a four-out save Wednesday at least showed some willingness to be more aggressive with his workload.

Dan Jennings is still be used pretty oddly and Zach Putnam is strangely buried, but between the aces, recognizing that Zach Duke is a LOOGY, and swapping Albers and Jake Petricka‘s roles, Ventura’s bullpen management seems pretty solid right now.

4. Since he was already rolling, Ventura went and laid the gauntlet down for Avisail Garcia before Wednesday’s game.

“He has been here enough,” Ventura said. “You talk about developing, but he also needs to produce. He knows that. I think now he needs to get some at-bats and produce.”

The transition is very gradual, but the language around Garcia is growing increasingly impatient. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Garcia runs out of rope before late June if he performs at normal levels, but could definitely accelerate the timeline if he continues to whiff at a 30 percent clip with all the other power and patience deficiencies still in place.

5. The White Sox are all alone — barely — in first place in the AL Central going into Thursday’s game, with the fifth-best run differential in the AL. Their 10-5 start combined with their PECOTA projection for the rest of the season would peg them at 87-75. That’s still behind the looming colossus that the system sees in Cleveland, but comfortably in the territory of seeing the Sox as a real and true playoff contender.

A superficially good start might be the best thing for the Sox, who need to mix opportunity with obligation to necessitate the acquisitions to shape this roster from a collection of core pieces to a complete team. Chris Sale shouldn’t be the only one discovering new ways to win.


Lead Photo Image: David Banks // USA Today Sports Images

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