Chris Sale Jumps Into AL MVP Discussion With Absurd Second-Half Start

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The walls started to close in on the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday afternoon in Seattle. They entered the getaway matinee game as losers of four in a row (including a 13-inning, bullpen-taxing heartbreaker the previous night) and eight of 13 since the All-Star break.

The second-place New York Yankees were on their way to another comfortable win, cutting Boston’s lead in the American League East race to 1 1/2 games. The Red Sox faced the prospect of losing five of six on a West Coast trip, and that’s not even considering all the off-field drama starting to bubble over.

Then Chris Sale took the mound, and for at least a few hours, all was right again in the Red Sox’s world.

The left-hander again dominated, breezing through seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out 11 in a much-needed 4-0 win over the Mariners.

Sale played the role of stopper for the second time in two starts, bookending the West Coast trip with wins. He also picked up the win Friday in Anaheim, temporarily halting a skid in which Boston had lost eight of 12.

Every time it appears the Red Sox might be drowning, Sale is the club’s life vest, cementing himself as an AL MVP contender in the process.

Sale has taken the ball three times since starting the All-Star Game for the American League, and he has dominated each time. In his three second-half starts, Sale pitched 20 2/3 innings and didn’t allow a run, yielding just 10 hits and striking out 33.

How about this? Of the 79 batters who came to home plate to face Sale since the All-Star break, 42 percent were sent back to where they came from with only a strikeout to show for their troubles.

It’s nothing new for Sale, who has dominated for pretty much the entire season. His first season in Boston arguably has been the best of his career. Through 21 starts, he leads American League pitchers in …

Wins (13)
Innings pitched (148 1/3)
Strikeouts (by 44, with 211!)
Strikeouts per nine innings (12.8)
Strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.81)
WHIP (0.876)
ERA (2.37)
FIP (1.92)
Wins above replacement (5.2)
Win probability added (3.4)

Old-school, new-school, middle-school, no matter what stats you want to look at, Sale probably leads the American League.

As long as he stays healthy, Sale is the hands-down, no-doubt, runaway winner of the AL Cy Young Award. But he’ll also receive at least a few MVP votes, especially if he’s able to sustain this pace or something close to it.

If you believe in the wins above replacement stat as an appropriate barometer for value, here’s how the AL WAR leaderboard looks after Sale’s latest gem.

Jose Altuve — 6.0
Aaron Judge — 5.4
Chris Sale — 5.2
Andrelton Simmons — 5.0
Mookie Betts — 5.0
Carlos Correa — 4.9

That’s based on Baseball-Reference’s WAR formula. If you go off Fangraphs’ formula, which for pitchers is based on the fielding independent pitching stat, it looks even better for Sale.

Chris Sale — 6.6
Jose Altuve — 5.6
Aaron Judge — 5.5
Mookie Betts — 4.3
Carlos Correa — 4.0

**It’s worth noting Sale’s MVP candidacy (as well as everyone else’s) benefits from Mike Trout missing six weeks with an injury

And if it feels like Sale always comes up big when the Red Sox need him most, it’s because he usually does.

There’s no guarantee Sale will keep up this pace, especially if the Red Sox decide to give him some rest down the stretch ahead of the playoffs, but if he does, he’s projected to end the season in the neighborhood of 340 strikeouts. That’s Randy Johnson’s neighborhood.

Fangraphs’ projections see Sale adding roughly 2 1/2 wins to his WAR by season’s end, putting him right around a 9.0 or 9.1, which would be the highest since Curt Schilling posted a 9.3 in 2002.

It still might be an uphill battle for Sale to get MVP consideration, though. Plenty of voters don’t like picking pitchers for MVP, with just four (Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw) winning the award since 1986. The fact that Verlander and Kershaw won the award within the last six years, however, might indicate that line of thinking is shifting.

And with every dominant start from here until season’s end, Sale will earn more and more consideration.

Thumbnail photo via Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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