A few hours prior to a game against the Red Sox this month, a lefthanded hitter walked into his manager’s office and emitted two dry coughs.
“Sale-itis?” asked the manager.
“Cough,” the player responded.
“Get some rest. Should go away in about 24 hours,” the manager chuckled.
Make no mistake: Chris Sale remains a headache- (and respiratory-infection-) inducing opponent for opposing hitters. Players aren’t exactly tearing up the lineup card when given a day off against him. He remains as desirable a playoff rotation anchor as there will be in the postseason.
Yet in the aftermath of a Blue Jays eruption for five runs and four homers in five innings against the lefthander en route to a 9-4 victory on Tuesday, it seems fair to ask: What’s up this month?
The Sox need to give Sale a break, writes Nick Cafardo.
There’s no point to worrying about Sale, writes Evan Drellich of CSNNE.com.
To the links!
ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Sale got shelled, as the Red Sox lost their second straight against the Blue Jays. Julian Benbow has the game story of a 9-4 loss.
Sale’s stumble likely sealed a second-place finish in Cy Young balloting behind Corey Kluber, writes Scott Lauber of ESPN.com.
Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ carved the Red Sox lineup for seven innings. The one Sox lineup member who made solid contact against the lefthander was outfielder Chris Young, who went 3-for-4 with a double and triple. Prior to the game, Red Sox manager John Farrell said that Young has an opportunity to play his way onto the postseason roster with a well-timed hot streak, magnifying the significance of individual game performances such as Tuesday’s.
IN GOOD STANDING (?): The Yankees, who have had a very impressive finishing kick to the season, beat the Rays, narrowing the Red Sox’ lead in the AL East to three games with five to go. The Sox’ magic number to clinch the AL East is three; the Yankees’ is 9.
Fangraphs gives the Red Sox a 95.6 percent chance of winning the division -- excellent odds, to be sure, but an event with a probability of occurring just under 24 out of every 25 times is not quite a struck-by-lightning scenario for collapse.
There are select examples in recent memory that demonstrate that an AL East title is not yet a lock. Among them:
■ In 2011, Atlanta had a three-game lead over St. Louis in the wild-card race with five games remaining. The Braves lost all five games, and the Cardinals won four to advance to the postseason.
■ In 2009, Dave Dombrowski’s Tigers had a three-game advantage over the Twins with four games left. Detroit ended up losing a one-game playoff for the AL Central against Minnesota.
■ In 1995, Seattle led the Angels by three games with five to play. The Halos won the next five games to force a one-game playoff – though Seattle won the extra contest to claim the AL West.
■ The 1987 Blue Jays were up by 2 ½ games with five to go, lost out, and went home when Detroit overtook them on the final day of the season.
Yet those examples represent extreme aberrations. Despite the collective memory of Red Sox late-season spirals in 2011 and 1978, the lion’s share of those slides occurred well before the final handful of regular season games. Tampa Bay was already within 1 ½ games of the Red Sox through Boston’s 157th game, while the 1978 team had already fallen behind the Yankees by that stage of the season.
In other words, while it’s premature to suggest that the Sox have locked up the AL East, it’s also worth noting that a team that has not lost more than four straight games this year, and that had won nine of 10 prior to this series against the Blue Jays, remains in good shape to claim its second straight division title.
The Yankees aren’t conceding the East, writes Dan Martin of the New York Post.
The reward for winning the AL East is a bit unclear. Houston won and Cleveland lost, meaning that the Astros now trail by just one game for the best record (and top seed) in the American League.
PORCELLO’S TURN: Rick Porcello has an opportunity to serve as a stopper on Wednesday and to help change the disappointing tone of his post-Cy season, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.
UNHEALTHY OUTLOOK: The Red Sox lineup was shorthanded, as Dustin Pedroia – originally scheduled to return to the lineup on Tuesday – remained sidelined by swelling in his knee, while Mookie Betts was out with inflammation in his left wrist and Eduardo Nunez was sidelined by his right knee injury.
John Farrell is trying to manage a wounded roster, writes Benbow.
As Cleveland proved last year, teams can withstand a host of injuries to key players – but it certainly makes life more difficult, writes Cafardo.
The mounting injuries are creating a fittingly strange conclusion to a strange year, writes Chad Finn.
One day after both Betts and Nunez left a game due to injuries, Andrew Benintendi slammed foul balls off his right shin and left knee. Benintendi expects to be fine, writes Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com.
BREAKING UP IS HARD: When the Red Sox broke up their 2004 championship team, the wrecking ball came swiftly. It seemed as if Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera had signed elsewhere before the conclusion of the Duck Boat parades – unsentimental moves that helped the Sox pivot to the creation of their next championship team in 2007.
The core of the 2015 Royals team that won a championship was different. The group, who broke into the big leagues and found their strides as if in lockstep, remained together for the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, prolonging the sense of an open championship window in a city that had waited 30 years for such a development.
Now, with the core of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar on the cusp of a free-agent diaspora, there’s a sense of melancholy for the conclusion of an era in Kansas City. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star looks at the magic that the group created together.