Ode to a Pitcher: Chris Sale closes out the Dodgers in Game 5

Image result for chris sale game 5
Chris Sale had a rough postseason, but the nastiest lefthander in the sport brought the fire in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series.

What do you think the Dodgers were thinking as Chris Sale trotted out to pitch? Do you think they knew their season was about to end? These are professionals; some of the best hitters alive. Surely they had confidence. But was that confidence dimmed, even if just a bit, by Sale’s emergence from the bullpen and not Craig Kimbrel’s? Neither man had been lights out in the postseason, but a hard-throwing strikeout machine of a starter letting loose for one inning conjures memories of Randy Johnson in the World Series.

It’s not pretty.

Sure, Sale hadn’t been his full fire-breathing self up to this point in the 2018 postseason — 14.1 innings, 11 hits, 8 walks, 21 strikeouts, 4.40 ERA. He missed a chunk of the regular season and his velocity wasn’t the same after returning. He was, perhaps, a tad vulnerable.

But make no mistake, Sale is nasty on a level few other pitchers can approach. His strikeout rate in 2018 was 38.4%. Just let that sit in your head for a minute. Oh, and the walks? 5.5%. His HR/FB was only 9.3%. As we know, pitchers truly control strikeouts, walks and home runs; Sale proves his incredible dominance with those numbers. He’s simply unbelievable. On a per-inning basis, he’s probably the best pitcher in the world (with respect to Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer).

So what were they thinking? Were Dave Roberts and his team terrified of the dragon who had flown out of the Boston bullpen? Or was there hope that perhaps Sale would walk the bases loaded or leave a fastball over the plate to Manny Machado with two on?

Sale hadn’t been himself in awhile, but if there was ever a time to turn it on …

The Dodgers will send Justin Turner (151 OPS+), Kiké Hernandez (117 OPS+), and Machado (146 OPS+) up to face Sale. Roberts couldn’t have asked for a better stretch of his lineup to step to the dish.

After all, the World Series is at stake.

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Sale starts Turner off with a fastball, pinging the glove for a called strike. We’ll watch the command as the outing continues.

Turner Pitch 1 Fastball

That delivery is really something. Endless prospect prognosticators assumed his arm would fly off his body at some point; not without some justification. They were wrong, even if Sale has shown a propensity to fade as the season stretches toward fall. Perhaps that’s the price one pays for breathing fire.

Sale hides the ball quite well and releases it so far toward first base that detecting what’s coming is a hefty challenge. It’s no picnic to face Sale without a handful of reps.

Turner Pitch 2 fastball

Turner handles fastballs pretty well — his wOBA against heaters was an above-average .386 — but Sale keeps it just high enough that the Dodgers third baseman only fouls it off. If that pitch is just a bit lower, it might have been gone.

Turner Pitch 3 fastball

Excellent sequencing pitch. Sale isn’t ready to go offspeed yet, so he moves the fastball up and out of the zone. Turner goes with it and fouls it straight back. Note that Sale missed arm side.

Turner Pitch 4 slider

But that miss made this slider oh so hard to resist. The Red Sox are two outs away.

Kiké steps up and Sale starts him off with a breaking ball.

Kike Pitch 1 Slider

Yep, that’s a bit of a flinch. Picking up the ball from Sale is such a challenge and his slider is so clearly tunneled with his fastball that I’m sure this looked like a ball careening right for his dome. But it wasn’t; it was a breaking ball for a called strike.

Frankly, Sale misses pretty badly here. He got away with one.

Kike Pitch 2 FB

Another miss. After starting off well with Turner, Sale has missed catcher Christian Vasquez’s glove a few times now.

Kike Pitch 3 FB

Vasquez sets up inside; Sale misses up and away.

Kike Pitch 4 FB

Sale missed again, this time badly. If you watch the full clip — I keep them short for the sake of mobile readers — it’s obvious Sale is frustrated. The entire tenor of the inning shifts if a baserunner comes into play.

If you’re a Dodger fan, do you allow yourself a smattering of hope? Sale losing Kiké is a great start on the road to extending the World Series.

One pitch from putting the Dodgers utility man on base.

Kike Pitch 5 FB

Sale comes back with another fastball, but despite the missed location it’s an okay pitch — the camera angle robs us of the movement. Fortunately for Sale, the heater was low enough that Kiké can only fight it off. Full count.

Kike Pitch 6 FB

Sale misses way above the zone but Kiké goes with him, knocking it foul. I can’t say for sure whether this is a sequencing pitch — I doubt Sale and Vasquez would risk the baserunner, but I don’t know — but it serves that purpose wonderfully.

Kike Pitch 7 Slider

That’s about as ugly of a swing as you’ll see. I’m sure there won’t be an uglier one in this outing — nope. No chance.

Kike Pitch 7 Slider Slomo.gif

Look at the movement on that thing. Poor Kiké. That gif is a great slow-motion look at the challenge of picking up what Sale is throwing. You can see the batter realize too late what’s coming and uncurl a hacky swing to try and keep the at-bat alive. It didn’t work.

The Red Sox are one out away.

The Dodgers are circling the drain, but their prized midseason acquisition is up at the plate. Machado is greeted with another excellent slider that he misses.

Machado Pitch 1 SL.gif

Patrick Corbin has a great slider too, but given the velocity and the ridiculous angle he throws it from, Sale might have my favorite in the big leagues.

Machado Pitch 2 FB

Vasquez sets up high and Sale delivers a hard fastball up and away. Machado flicks it foul and is now in the most wretched of all places; down 0-2 versus Chris Sale. Excellent sequencing here too, moving diagonally up through the zone.

Machado Pitch 3 FB

Sale delivers another high fastball that Machado takes for a ball. Here’s the predicament the future Padre is in; do you sit fastball and leave yourself open to the slider? Or the opposite?

It’s a terrible place to be in, staring down a fire-breathing dragon with only a baseball bat.

Machado Pitch 4 SL

No chance.

Manny Machado is an awesome hitter and Chris Sale depantsed him here. That punchout couldn’t have been more dominant, a pitcher fully in control of the at-bat and strike zone, finishing off the batter with a flourish.

Red Sox win.

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The Red Sox traded quite a bit to acquire Sale, the then-ace of the Chicago White Sox. Such is the reality of acquiring an ace in his prime. Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech were highly-touted prospects, but Sale has been worth the investment — he’s been dominant in Boston (175 ERA+, 13.2 K/9). Those numbers leap off the screen, but in a sports town like Beantown, championships move the needle.

Now Sale has one and the Red Sox have another.

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This was Ode to a Pitcher, a weekly feature from Adkins on Sports where we break down a brilliant pitching performance. These posts are meant to be informative and fun, just like baseball coverage should be.

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