After an offseason full of speculation about whether the White Sox would move Chris Sale into the rotation or keep him in the bullpen the drama is already over, as general manager Ken Williams announced that Sale will be used as a reliever.
Making that decision now is interesting because part of the reason why Sale moving to the rotation was considered a legitimate option stemmed from Jake Peavy’s uncertain health status. Peavy reportedly looked and felt good while throwing today, but clearly it’s too early to say when he’ll be ready to rejoin the rotation, let alone if he’ll be ready for April starts.
By making the call on Sale before knowing Peavy’s status the White Sox are seemingly saying he’s simply better off in the bullpen, where he dominated in his debut with a 1.93 ERA, .185 opponents’ batting average, and 32 strikeouts in 23 innings. However, he was a starter in college before going 13th overall in last June’s draft and the White Sox previously have indicated they feel Sale has a future atop the rotation.
That may still be true, but much like Neftali Feliz in Texas the decision to use Sale as a reliever in his debut and then keep him in the bullpen for his first full season makes it significantly less likely that he’ll ever get a shot in the rotation, particularly if he thrives as a reliever. I’m a big believer in giving young pitchers every opportunity to fill a 200-inning role before moving them into a 65-inning role for the rest of their career, but it’s awfully tempting to keep someone in a job they’ve performed extremely well in rather than taking the chance that they won’t have the same success in a different gig.
Most top starters could be elite relievers, but most elite relievers could not be top starters. It’s looking more and more like we may never find out with Sale.
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.