Red Sox ace Chris Sale fastest to 200 strikeouts in AL history

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 09: Chris Sale
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 09: Chris Sale /

Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale recorded his 200th strikeout this season, doing so in fewer innings than any American League pitcher in history.

Chris Sale struck out the side in the top of the first inning against the Minnesota Twins on his way to another dazzling performance. That third K represents a milestone, as it was the 200th strikeout of the season for the ace of the Boston Red Sox.

The lanky lefty had logged 136 innings when he tallied strikeout No. 200, the fewest innings it has ever taken an American League pitcher to reach that mark. Sale topped his own league record from last season when he reached 200 strikeouts in 141 1/3 innings.

This is now the sixth consecutive season that Sale has recorded 200+ strikeouts. That threshold almost seems trivial for one of the rare pitchers to cross the 300 strikeout barrier.

Least year we watched with bated breath as Sale chased Pedro Martinez‘ single-season franchise strikeout record. He ultimately fell shot by a mere five K’s but this year he topped 200 even faster than he did a year ago. Does that mean he could break Pedro’s record?

Well, not really. He certainly could do it, he’s just not on pace to do so.

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Sale is currently at 207 strikeouts through 22 starts this season. His total after 22 starts last year was 216. It took him more innings to reach 200 last year but he did it in his 20th start. Sale has been more dominant this year with a career-high 13. 2 K/9 compared to last year’s 12.9 K/9. He’s behind the pace in terms of strikeout totals simply because he’s throwing fewer innings.

Sale should still make a run at 300 K’s. At his current rate, if he makes 32 starts, he’ll finish with 301 strikeouts. Breaking Pedro’s record of 313 would mean he needs to step up his otherworldly pace or increase his workload. The former asks too much and the latter isn’t going to happen.

The Red Sox are making a concerted effort to preserve their ace’s left arm. Sale didn’t pitch more than six innings or throw 100+ pitches until his fifth start this season. He has pitched eight or more innings only twice and hasn’t tossed more than 116 pitches in an outing.

Taking caution with Sale’s workload is paying off. This is the time of year when we saw Sale begin to tire last season. His 22nd start was when he was rocked for seven runs by the Cleveland Indians. He would give up 4+ runs on four other occasions down the stretch followed by a disappointing postseason.

He’s reached that same point this year without any signs of slowing down. In fact, Sale has never been more dominant. He shut out the Twins over six innings on Friday. Sale now owns a 0.23 ERA over his last six starts, the second-lowest ERA for a Red Sox pitcher over any single-season six-game span since earned runs became an official stat in 1913. Only Babe Ruth (0.16 ERA in 1916) has strung together a more dominant stretch of this length.

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The Red Sox need Sale to maintain this level into the postseason. In order to do that they must continue to monitor his innings. Sale may even skip a start down the stretch if the Red Sox still hold a comfortable division lead. That would hinder his chances of catching Pedro but I’m sure Sale would be fine with that. He’s not chasing records, he’s chasing championships.