Red Sox Predictions: Chris Sale will fall short of franchise strikeout record

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 24: Starter Chris Sale
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 24: Starter Chris Sale /

Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale remains on pace to set the single-season franchise record for strikeouts but ultimately will fall short.

Chris Sale‘s first season with the Boston Red Sox has already surpassed our sky-high expectations. Not only is the lefty in the thick of a tight race that may end with the first Cy Young Award of his career, he’s also on the verge of making history.

Sale’s season strikeout total stands at 287 entering Wednesday night’s start in Baltimore, leaving him 13 K’s shy of becoming the first American League pitcher to reach 300 strikeouts in a season since former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez in 1999.

The schedule lines up with Sale penciled in for three more regular season starts. At his current rate of about 9.5 strikeouts per start, Sale would be expected to finish the season with approximately 315 strikeouts, topping Pedro’s single-season franchise record of 313.

While he remains on pace to break the franchise record, Sale is likely to fall short.

Sale hasn’t lasted longer than six innings in any of his three September starts. He was neither effective nor efficient in two of those starts, although that wasn’t the case when he blanked the Tampa Bay Rays over six innings. With the Red Sox holding a comfortable lead, Sale was pulled after only six innings and fewer than 100 pitches. Sale surely would have been set loose for another inning had that game been in June. It’s clear the Red Sox want to give him a bit of extra rest down the stretch in preparation for a postseason run.

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If we can’t count on Sale going deeper than six innings in his remaining starts then his strikeouts should dip to an average of about eight per start, which is about what he’s averaging in September. At that pace, Sale would fall just short of the record with 311.

There’s also a strong chance of Sale not making three more regular season starts. The third start is scheduled for the last game of the season against the Houston Astros, a potential opponent for the Red Sox in the ALDS. If the playoff seeding is already locked in by that point then there is no reason to use Sale. The only way he makes that start is if home-field advantage is on the line, essentially turning it into another playoff game.

Assuming Sale skips his last start, he would need to average 13 strikeouts over his remaining two outings to tie Pedro’s record. That’s certainly feasible considering he’s recorded 13 strikeouts on three occasions this season, including once against a Toronto Blue Jays team he’ll face next week. The Jays lineup has been whiffing more frequently in the second half as they introduce younger players at the tail end of a lost season. Sale will also face an Orioles team that is top-five in the league in strikeout rate.

The record is still within reach but it’s a tall task if Sale only makes two more starts or is on a more restrictive pitch count. He has to pitch effectively and efficiently, which he hasn’t done in two of his three September starts. In his previous starts reaching 13 strikeouts, he lasted at least 7 2/3 innings, which he hasn’t done over his last seven starts.

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Sale is wrapping up the most dominant season we’ve seen by a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro was in his prime. It’s been an incredible ride but one that will ultimately stop short of reaching the historic level set by Martinez.