Chris Sale's Hot Start Could Help the White Sox Make the Playoffs

Sale has been dominant this season, helping Chicago to a 10-5 record. Is it enough to think playoffs?

Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale is one of baseball's best pitchers, and he has a well-earned reputation for coming right after hitters.

In 2015, per Fangraphs, more than a quarter of the at-bats against Sale -- 231 of them, to be precise -- went to 0-2 counts.

He’s ruthless, terrifying and nasty, and with his top-shelf repertoire, there's not much of a need to try and trick hitters.

Last season, Sale ranked 2nd with a 32.1 strikeout percentage, and his 4.9 walk percentage ranked 10th.

You don’t need Bill James to tell you he’s great.

Sale's White Hot Start

He’s carving up hitters again this season -- taking it to a new level over his last two starts -- and been a big reason the White Sox have surged to a 10-5 record, becoming the first American League team to reach double-digit wins.

Sale is 4-0 on the year with a 2.97 SIERA, 23.9 strikeout percentage and 2.8 walk percentage. Those numbers are great, but Sale has been incredibly dominant over his last two starts, a pair of victories over the Rays and Angels.

On April 15 against the Rays, he fired a complete-game shutout, fanning nine and allowing just two hits without issuing a free pass. He needed just 106 pitches to complete the masterpiece, with 71 of those going for strikes.

In the triumph over the Angels on Wednesday, Sale permitted just two hits while allowing one unearned run, punching out three with zero walks. He threw 76 of his 108 pitches for strikes, and both of the Angels’ hits came via Mike Trout, meaning the rest of the team was 0-for-21 versus Sale.

Here’s a straight-up whiffle ball slider he threw to Geovany Soto, who just drops his head in defeat. 

So, in an easy-on-the-eyes summary, here’s what Sale has done over those two outings.

Chris Sale IP Batters Faced Hits Walks Strikeouts Earned Runs Balls Strikes
Rays 9 23 2 0 3 0 35 71
Angels 7 30 2 0 9 0 32 76
Totals 16 53 4 0 12 0 67 147

Yeah, that’ll work.

If this was Little League, the parents of the Angels’ and Rays’ players would be asking to see Sale’s birth certificate.

Is It Enough?

While Sale has been dominant since his call-up in 2010, owning a career 2.91 xFIP, the White Sox haven’t followed suit. In fact, since 2012, Sale’s first season as a full-time starter, Chicago has had just one winning season and averaged a meager 74.25 victories per year with zero playoff appearances during that four-year span.

That could change this year. On the strength of Sale’s 4-0 start, the White Sox sit atop the American League with a 10-5 record.

Chicago’s hitters are in debt to the pitchers. Despite the offseason acquisition of slugging third baseman Todd Frazier, the White Sox rank 28th with a lousy .270 wOBA. The pitchers, on the other hand, check in seventh with a 3.48 SIERA.

In addition to Sale, Jose Quintana has been dealing. A massively underrated pitcher who has posted a SIERA under 3.63 in each of the past three years, Quintana owns a sparkling 2.96 SIERA to go with a 25.0 strikeout percentage through three starts.

Mat Latos’ early-season success has been a little bit smoke and mirrors as there is a small ocean between his SIERA (4.58) and ERA (0.49). Carlos Rodon, an electric young arm, shows flashes of ace potential. He possesses the stuff (20.3 strikeout percentage) but isn’t sure where said stuff is going (12.5 walk percentage).

The White Sox have also been getting superb pitching out of the bullpen. Five relievers -- Nate Jones, David Robertson, Jake Petricka, Zach Duke and Zach Putnam -- own SIERA’s under 3.00.

If Chicago’s pitchers can continue to deal and if the offense, which features Frazier and Jose Abreu in the middle of the order, picks it up, we may get to see Sale pitch in the playoffs for the first time in his career, which is a win for everyone.

Our algorithms see the White Sox as the 7th-best team in the bigs and give them a 37.8% chance to reach the playoffs, the 11th-best odds in the league.