Chris Sale has hit a wall of sorts, and not at a particularly good time for the White Sox, who got pounded by the Tampa Bay Rays 11-3 Tuesday night for their fifth loss in six games.
Sale, who pitched with extraordinary strikeout efficiency over a streak of 12 straight games from mid-May to mid-July, struck out nine but was roughed up for seven runs on six hits and three walks in a matchup of All-Stars dominated by Rays right-hander Chris Archer.
It was Sale’s third defeat in his last four starts, a period covering 23 2/3 innings and 20 earned runs allowed (7.60) during that stretch.
“It’s tough. It sucks sitting in here for four innings watching what you’ve done just unravel and putting guys in situations they shouldn’t be in,’’ a somber Sale said. “That’s tough. It really sucks, honestly.’’
In Sale’s last start, the Boston Red Sox got him for seven runs on 12 hits, the most ever allowed by the left-hander. That Sox loss stopped a seven-game winning streak, prevented them from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since May 19 and started the Sox on this latest skid.
“I’ve been the weak link [the last] couple times out,’’ said Sale, who lost consecutive starts for the first time since 2013. “I’m not leaving my team a chance to win; I’m not doing my job at all.’’
On a night with Archer going, and the Sox clinging with a less-than-firm grip on their iffy wild card designs, Sale gave up a two-run homer to Logan Forsythe in the first inning and a solo shot to Mike Mahtook leading off the fifth after Tyler Saladino had homered to get the Sox within 2-1. Sale has allowed six homers in his last six starts after giving up eight in his first 15.
Sale was charged with four of the Rays’ five runs in the sixth, an inning stamped by an unsightly play on Kevin Kiermaier’s bloop single in front of center fielder Adam Eaton that scored a run and then another as Eaton’s easy throw in toward home – Asdrubal Cabrera was holding at third – skipped under catcher Tyler Flowers’ mitt and rolled to the backstop, allowing Cabrera to score.
“Some sloppy ones that got through there tonight that we are not accustomed to the last week,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “I thought we were over that.’’
Sale was not backing up on a play that looked all too much like those first-half White Sox who looked like anything but a wild card contender. Boo-birds among the 18,499 made themselves known.
So what’s wrong with Sale, the AL strikeout leader who was 6-3 with a 1.76 ERA over 12 starts before this recent run of three losses in four starts?
“I don’t know,’’ Flowers said. “For a couple innings there he was locked in — command, executing pitches, then the next inning a couple mistakes where they took advantage, walking guys, pretty uncharacteristic of him. I’m not entirely sure, I didn’t see anything different aside from just missing spots.
“We all just expect him being an ace and how talented he is to just dominate every time and the reality is he’shuman.’’
The reality for the Sox is that their 7-1 road trip in Cleveland and Boston, which had caused general manager Rick Hahn to resist trading right-hander Jeff Samardzija before Friday’s trade deadline, is looking like fool’s gold. The Sox responded to the trip by losing two of three to the Yankees and the first two games of this series to fall to 0-5 against the Rays.
The starting pitching, sturdy through most of July, has blown up on the home stand with 42 runs allowed in five games. And Sox hitters who had carved up the Indians and Red Sox were silenced by Archer (10-8, 2.54 ERA after allowing two runs over seven innings).
“We were just trying to be aggressive [against Sale],’’ Rays center fielder Kevin Kiemaier (3-for-5) said. “He really didn’t throw the fastball as much as I thought he was. He was throwing sliders and change-ups and we all did a good job with handling what he threw at us.’’