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Chris Sale’s dominant outing helps a strong Cy Young case

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Chris Sale didn’t need another complete game to make his case for the American League Cy Young Award, but it certainly didn’t hurt. After taking a perfect game through 4 ⅓ during Friday’s 7-1 win over the Royals, Sale lost the bid on a Salvador Perez ground ball, then carried the White Sox through another 4 ⅔ frames for his sixth complete game of the season.

Even without the perfect game, Sale was outstanding. He tossed 8 ⅓ innings before pitching to a batter on a full count and racked up 10 strikeouts in his fourth double-strikeout outing of 2016. In the fifth inning, the Royals broke through on a two-RBI single by Hunter Dozier that hinged on a throwing error from shortstop Tyler Saladino, then knocked in another two runs in the sixth on a Whit Merrifield triple and Kendrys Morales line drive. In every other inning, however, none of the Royals’ batters made it past first base, and Sale escaped with his 3.03 ERA largely intact.

Of the myriad ways to dissect a pitcher’s case for Cy Young, Sale has distinguished himself most notably in traditional metrics. His ERA is second-best among American League starters, and his 3.43 FIP ranks fourth alongside White Sox teammate Jose Quintana. Chicago’s ace has proven one of the most durable pitchers in the AL, pitching 201 ⅔ innings heading into Friday and ranking just behind David Price for the second-most innings in the league.

Sale hit his stride during the second half of the year, where he’s currently the second-most valuable pitcher behind 20-game winner Rick Porcello, touting 2.2 fWAR since the All-Star break and a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP of 2.47 and 2.96, respectively.

Despite high marks, the left-hander is still trailing frontrunners like Justin Verlander and Masahiro Tanaka in peripherals like K/9 and BB/9. In the second half, Sale improved his K/9 from 8.86 to 9.63 and watched his walk rate slip from 1.87 in the first half to 2.00 in the second half. Overall, he’s walking about as many batters per nine innings as he did during his 6.2 fWAR, Cy Young-contending 2015 season, but his strikeouts have plummeted from last year’s career-best mark of 11.82 K/9 — a number that could be difficult to rectify over his last three starts of 2016.

Of course, if Sale can pull off another three wins by the end of the year, coming in just behind Rick Porcello and J.A. Happ with a 19-8 record, if he can shave off a few points from his ERA and boost his fWAR over 5.0 wins, if the White Sox can dig around in their pockets for more than 4.17 runs of support every time their ace takes the mound, maybe he can narrow the gap between third-best in the American League and first. It’s a lot of pressure to place on the last two weeks of what has otherwise been a fairly mediocre season for the White Sox, but if Friday’s gem was any indication, Sale should be up to the challenge.

Gabe Kapler chooses not to bench Jean Segura for lack of effort

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The Phillies are in a tailspin. The club lost its perch atop the NL East, losing 12 of its last 18 games dating back to May 30. They enter Thursday night’s action four games behind the now-first-place Braves. The reasons for the slide are myriad, including a rash of injuries, but the players have also simply not played well. Understandably, fans are upset.

It didn’t help when, for the second time in three weeks, shortstop Jean Segura didn’t run hard on a batted ball. On June 3, Segura didn’t run on an infield pop-up that eventually resulted in a season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen. On Wednesday during the second game of a doubleheader, Segura weakly hit a Max Scherzer pitch to shallow left-center that wasn’t caught. Because he was watching the ball rather than running hard, he had to hold up after a wide turn around first base.

To the surprise of many, Segura wasn’t pulled from the game despite the lack of effort. To the even further surprise of many, manager Gabe Kapler included Segura in Thursday’s lineup against the Nationals, which has otherwise been thoroughly reshuffled. Per Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kapler said, “Jean is one of our eight best players. I don’t think taking one of our eight best players and our shortstop out of our lineup is what’s best for the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Kapler said he had a long talk with Segura. “I told him that we’re going to address not just him but other players in the clubhouse and we’re going to talk about the highest level of effort and talk about how we can’t win every night but we can win the game of give-a-[hoot] and be undefeated in that category. Then we can protect the Phillies by putting the best lineup together on a nightly basis and not think about making ourselves feel better by sending a message.”

Kapler hit the nail on the head with that last line. Benching Segura only makes fans and pundits feel better by punishing someone for a perceived transgression. But does it actually teach anything, and is it actually beneficial to the team? Maybe to the former, and no to the latter. Matt Winkelman of Baseball Prospectus brought up a great point on Twitter, writing, “The idea that punishment is the only way to solve a problem or change behavior is such a narrow minded idea.” People learn best in different ways. Some might respond well to punishment. Others may just need a good talking-to. It’s a case-by-case thing. Kapler is right to apply nuance to the situation.

So many of baseball’s long-held beliefs have fallen to the wayside in recent years. The idea that a player must always be punished for a lack of effort will hopefully be the next one to be taken out to the dumpster.