Red Sox: Chris Sale is no stranger to lack of run support

Apr 10, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (41) sits in dugout after being relieved in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (41) sits in dugout after being relieved in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Monday’s tough luck loss in Detroit isn’t the first time Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale has been the victim of poor run support.

For those seeking an example of why pitcher wins is an overrated statistic, look no further than Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale.

The shiny new toy in Boston’s rotation has been brilliant through two starts in which he’s allowed a total of only two earned runs for a sparkling 1.23 ERA, yet still doesn’t have a win to show for it. How can this be?

The issue has been run support, as Boston has scored a total of only four runs in the two games Sale has started. That in itself is a bit misleading, considering three of those runs came from Sandy Leon‘s dramatic walk-off home run in extra-innings to cap off Sale’s Red Sox debut. The team got the win, but Sale didn’t receive the credit since he departed the game after seven innings with the score tied.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Monday’s loss was the sixth time over the last five seasons that Sale has been tagged with a loss despite allowing no more than two earned runs. That’s twice as many losses in those situations as any pitcher in baseball, with new teammate David Price being the only other pitcher with more than two such instances.

Clearly this lack of run support is nothing new for Sale. Last season, the lefty equaled his career-high with 17 wins while finishing middle of the pack with 4.56 runs of support per start. That’s over two full runs less than Rick Porcello, who rode his major league-leading 22 wins to a Cy Young trophy. The run support Sale received wasn’t terrible, although the support he received from the Chicago White Sox offense over the previous few seasons was borderline criminal.

2015 – 3.81 RS (AL Ranking – 29th)

2014 – 3.88 RS (AL Ranking – 32nd)

2013 – 3.20 (AL Ranking – 35th)

Over the span of those three seasons, Sale averaged a mere 12 wins. That’s not a total we expect from an ace of his caliber, although it’s hardly his fault. Sale actually posted a losing record (11-14) in 2013 despite finishing 7th in the league with a 3.07 ERA and third with 226 strikeouts.

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The following season he was limited to 26 starts, which still should have been more than enough opportunities to tally more than 12 wins. Sale had arguably the best year of his career that season, finishing second in both ERA (2.17) and WHIP (0.97).

Sale pitched behind some pretty anemic offenses in Chicago that finished in the bottom half of the league in runs scored each of the last four seasons – including a pair of last place finishes. That was supposed to change when he was traded to a Red Sox team with a reputation as an offensive powerhouse.

So far, that hasn’t been the case. Boston’s offense has struggled through the first six games, scoring only 22 runs. Their 10th place ranking in the American League is a bit misleading given that half the teams have played at least one more game than they have, but their 3.6 runs per game is still a steep drop from last year’s major league-leading pace.

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Losing David Ortiz to retirement was always going to have a negative effect on this lineup, just not to the point that we’ve seen thus far. Various strains of the flu virus have rampaged through the Red Sox clubhouse, leaving the team with a skeleton lineup for much of the season.

One of those flu victims was Mookie Betts, who missed Sale’s first start. He was in the lineup on Monday, but it was only his second game back and he’s clearly still trying to find his rhythm at the plate after sitting out a few games with the illness. Hanley Ramirez missed the entire Detroit series with the bug, while Xander Bogaerts wasn’t able to make it back in time from bereavement leave after his flight from Aruba was cancelled.

The Red Sox offense hasn’t been the juggernaut we expect because we haven’t seen the full lineup intact since Opening Day. As players return to health, this offense will start clicking again, which inevitably will lead to Sale piling up wins.

Sale didn’t deserve to take the loss on Monday. He simply had the misfortune of running into Tigers ace Justin Verlander in a pitching duel where he was supported by a lineup missing some key hitters. Boston’s bats will be back to full strength before long and Sale won’t be up against a former MVP very often.

Next: What if Pedro never left Boston?

As infuriating as it can be for fans to watch a depleted lineup struggle to produce enough to deliver a well-earned win to reward a brilliant pitching performance, don’t expect the frustration to boil over to the point that it effects Sale on the mound. By  now, he’s used to it.