Chris Sale’s biggest Cy Young competition? Corey Kluber
The 2017 American League Cy Young Award may still be a slam dunk for Chris Sale, but Indians righthander Corey Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young winner and third-place finisher last year, has been putting up some incredible numbers of his own. The fact he missed a month with a back issue could hurt his chances at the award, but as Indians major league advance coach Scott Atchison said, “Who knows if missing the time works out for him in the end, where he has a little bit more in the tank.”
If the regular season ended today, the Red Sox and Indians would meet in the divisional round for the second straight year. And if both teams had a chance to set up their rotation, Game 1 would feature Sale vs. Kluber.
Here are their numbers since June 1: Sale — 8-2, 2.38 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 119 strikeouts, and 13 walks over 83⅓ innings; Kluber — 7-1, 1.70 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 142 strikeouts, and 15 walks over 95⅓ innings.
Overall, Kluber is 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA, while Sale is 14-4 with a 2.57 ERA. Sale has a chance to win the pitching Triple Crown (most wins, most strikeouts, lowest ERA). If he does that, he wins the Cy hands down. Kluber beat out Felix Hernandez for the award in ’14 with a second-half flurry, and he’s on the same kind of run now.
As for the competition with his pal Sale — they’re represented by the same agent, BB Abbott — Kluber said, “We haven’t mentioned it once to each other. We’re both trying to go out and help our teams win games. That’s probably secondary and not what either one of us are focusing on.”
And regarding a possible postseason meeting against Sale, Kluber said, “That’s a long ways away. Last year I got hurt and wasn’t able to pitch the first game [of the division series], so there are a lot of factors that could occur before all of that. I think Chris and I just want to help get our teams there. And that’s going out there one start at a time and doing your best.”
What’s interesting is that Sale has struggled against the Indians and Kluber has struggled against the Red Sox. Sale’s start on Aug. 1 against Cleveland was his worst of the season, allowing seven runs over five innings. In his career against Cleveland, Sale is 5-7 with a 4.44 ERA. Kluber is 2-3 with a 4.78 ERA against Boston in his career, though he beat the Red Sox, 6-0, in Game 2 last October with seven shutout innings.
Since joining the Indians, reliever Andrew Miller has known Kluber to be “one of the hardest-working pitchers I’ve ever been around. The guys who were here in 2014 when he won the Cy Young tell me he’s even better now.”
“Each year has been a little bit different,” Kluber acknowledged. “I think I’m a smarter pitcher now from the experiences I’ve had. I think they’re all unrelated and hard to compare.”
Kluber enters his start Sunday with five straight games of 11 or more strikeouts, and 12 double-digit strikeout games on the season. Sale has 15.
Kluber is proud of his Cy Young, but he said it doesn’t motivate him to win another. And it doesn’t define him or the way he goes about his work.
“I guess if you want something to fall back on and reassure yourself, then I guess you can look at a Cy Young Award and do that and that could give you confidence,” he said. “But for me it comes from the work daily in between starts and not necessarily as a result of an award I won three years ago. I like to put in work on a daily basis and put myself in position when that fifth day comes to help my team win.”
Kluber, who spent parts of six seasons in the minors, didn’t know where his career would take him.
“I wanted to be a major league pitcher, continue to improve to stay here, and have a chance to be successful. I think everyone in the majors can say they can be better. Nobody’s mastered baseball. Unless you’re throwing a complete-game shutout every time out, there’s always room for improvement,” he said.
What manager Terry Francona and the rest of the Indians love about Kluber is that he’s the genuine article on and off the field.
“He’ll never be the loudest guy in the room, but he’s a little sneaky,” Francona said. “I don’t think anyone but the guys in this clubhouse are going to see that personality.”
Miller is amazed by Kluber’s “ability to make the ball move. He’s got overpowering stuff. He’s got velocity. He’s got the comeback sinker and can make a rising fastball and can go front door to a lefty and back door to a righty. There’s no doubt he is in the conversation as the best pitcher in baseball.”
We wrote last week about the possibility of the Red Sox extending Sale, who has two option years remaining on his contract at bargain prices of $12.5 million and $13.5 million.
“We’re open to listening if that came about,” Abbott said.
Kluber’s deal is also team-friendly. The 31-year-old signed a five-year, $38.5 million deal in 2015 that runs through 2019, plus team options for 2020 ($13.5 million) and 2021 ($14 million).
They might be the best bargains in baseball. And they may go head-to-head in October, and again in November for the Cy Young.
Miller: Players have preferences
Andrew Miller has played for six teams — in various sized media markets — and he’s had teammates who prefer small markets where not as much attention is paid, and those who prefer big crowds and big markets.
As we spoke in the Indians’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field this past week, there were no more than two reporters who cover the Indians. Some players love this. Fewer interviews. Little attention. Small crowds.
Is it a shock then that two ex-Rays the Red Sox signed in free agency, Carl Crawford and David Price, have had problems acclimating to Boston?
Miller played with Crawford in Boston.
“I loved Carl as a teammate, but he didn’t play as well there as he wanted to. It’s always a small sample size, but maybe CC would have done great if he had one less injury. His talent level was unquestioned and he was a great player,” Miller said.
Crawford excelled in Tampa Bay, where he could just play baseball without much media attention.
“For me, the best thing that ever happened was coming to Boston,” Miller said. “I loved the big crowds and all of the attention paid to the team. I loved the adrenaline it gave me. But I know guys who prefer to just play baseball and not have to worry about outside things. Everybody is a little different.”
Miller has loved his time in Cleveland and the attention the Indians have received from their World Series run last season.
“[Terry Francona] can draw some attention to our team by who he is. But with Corey [Kluber] and other guys on our team, we don’t get the attention that players do in Boston and New York,” Miller said. “I liked [Tigers manager] Brad Ausmus and what he said about Jose Ramirez. He said [that] while a lot of the country doesn’t know [Ramirez], the Tigers know him all too well and the damage he’s done.”
Miller saw how a small market works when he played for the Marlins.
“There were guys who really thrived in an environment like that,” he said. “And it’s not that expectations are lower, but you’re not playing in front of full crowds, you’re not in a clubhouse with a bunch of media. You’re never going to be picked to win the division over, in that case back then, the Braves or the Phillies or the Mets. Those guys thrived in that situation.
“I’m not saying that’s why I struggled there, but for me, going to Boston was getting back to playing in front of the crowds and getting back to a situation which I felt was a better fit for me.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Red Sox coaches were glued to Wade Boggs talking about hitting before games during his two-game NESN stint last week. Boggs said the biggest difference between now and when he played is that hitters get out in front and start their swings early because pitch velocity has increased so much, and that has led to more strikeouts and popups. Boggs said he was able to let the pitch come into him before swinging. The most Boggs ever struck out in one season was 68 times in 1990. At one point in his career, Boggs popped out once in a span of about 600 at-bats. He also hit .401 over a 162-game period, from June 9, 1985 until June 6, 1986. He had a .476 on-base percentage in 1988.
2. Teams run most of their roster through revocable trade waivers in August to gauge interest. If a player is claimed, the player is usually pulled back. The first three players the Red Sox put on waivers were Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, and Mookie Betts.
3. Boggs thinks the ride from Tampa to St. Petersburg is simply too long for the average baseball fan, and he expects a big surge in attendance if the Rays build a stadium in Tampa. The 11,853 at Tropicana Field for Wednesday’s game against the Red Sox was disgraceful for a major league city. One explanation given was that kids were going back to school the next day. But that’s never stopped 37,000-plus from showing up at Fenway.
4. We’re seeing more managers and GMs head to the end of their contracts, creating a lame-duck status owners used to avoid. Among those at the end of their contracts: Mets GM Sandy Alderson, Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and managers Dusty Baker, Joe Girardi, Brad Ausmus, Paul Molitor, and Terry Collins.
5. While the 2018 MLB schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, the Red Sox are expected to open the season at Tampa Bay, followed by an interleague series in Miami.
Updates on nine
1. Steve Cishek, RHP, Rays — The Falmouth native has had a good year, starting with Seattle and now with Tampa Bay, and will hit free agency at season’s end. He’s likely to be in demand with his closing experience, as well as for his funky sidearm delivery.
2. Wade Davis, RHP, Cubs — Theo Epstein isn’t married to closers. He let Aroldis Chapman walk after last season; will he make any attempt to re-sign Davis after this season? Davis had converted all 24 save chances entering the weekend. He’s been pretty darn effective and should have no problem landing a lucrative deal.
3. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers — The Brewers have had interest in trying to make something happen with Kinsler, and it wasn’t known whether Milwaukee was the team that claimed Kinsler on revocable trade waivers on Friday. If the Tigers can’t work out a deal in 48 hours, they will likely pull him back. Kinsler has some no-trade protection and one of the teams he can’t be traded to without his permission is the Brewers.
4. Terry Francona, manager, Indians — “Getting stronger every day,” Francona said about his recent health scare. When told he looked good, he quipped, “Not really. It’s me.” Francona was thrilled to obtain Jay Bruce and his 29 homers from the Mets. He said he’ll have a juggling act when Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley come off the DL, “but that’s a good outfield problem to have. I’ll deal with that any day.” Francona said he spoke to Bruce before the trade to explain the situation, and Bruce was on board.
5. Koji Uehara, RHP, Cubs — Uehara is on the disabled list with a neck strain and there’s concern that this could be the end of the road for the 42-year-old reliever. Since July 1, Uehara has pitched 12 innings over 15 appearances, posting a 5.25 ERA while allowing four home runs.
6. Miguel Andujar, 3B, Yankees — The righthanded-hitting prospect is a scout’s dream, scoring high on reports by just about everyone who has seen him. Most scouts project him as a future major league All-Star with a powerful throwing arm and say he might hit the ball harder than anyone in minor league baseball. Andujar started the weekend with a .315 average, 14 homers, 71 RBIs, and an .857 OPS.
7. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins — Are we finally seeing the Stanton that we envisioned? Over a 30-game span heading into Friday, Stanton had 18 home runs and 35 RBIs. He’s on pace for 56 homers.
8. Khris Davis, LF, Athletics — Davis wrote in the Players’ Tribune that he’s had a case of the throwing “yips” for years. “Until now, maybe out of embarrassment, or even pride, this wasn’t something I wanted to bring out into the open. Part of the reason is I never knew where to begin, exactly,” Davis wrote. Said A’s manager Bob Melvin of Davis’s admission: “It takes some courage.”
9. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants — There’s already talk of a Sandoval/Christian Arroyo platoon next season. Sandoval has made a good impression in his second tour as a Giant.
From the Bill Chuck files — “This season, batters are hitting .270 after swinging at the first pitch and .248 after taking the first pitch. The Rays lead the majors in swinging at the first pitch, while the Red Sox lead the majors in taking the first pitch.” . . . Happy 29th birthday, Brandon Workman.
What an experience
In the midst of the worst of his 20 seasons in the big leagues, Bartolo Colon showed he still has a little left in the tank, becoming the 10th pitcher in the last 50 years to throw a complete game after turning 44. Knuckleballer Phil Niekro stands atop the list, but seven of the 10 are non-knuckleballers.