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Behind The Seams: Chris Sale's Slow Build To October Is Concerning

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

OK, so maybe I’m a little late to the party. But suddenly I’m very worried about Chris Sale being ready for the playoffs.

Admittedly, “ready” is a relative and subjective term, because in some ways Sale is “ready” now. In Sunday’s start against the New York Mets at Fenway Park, Sale threw 41 pitches in three scoreless innings, then went out and threw another inning in the bullpen. In theory, he could go out right now and throw anywhere from 60-75 pitches in his next outing, which could be as many as five innings. He’s throwing hard enough, and he had much better command and control in Sunday’s start compared to his previous time out.

After the Mets game, here’s what Sale told reporters: "By my first postseason start, we'll be at 100 pitches, which is where you want to be.”

But is it?

Tell you what. Let’s back up for minute.

Since Sale came off the disabled list for the second time, his throwing program with the Red Sox has had a spring training feel to it. In his first outing, he threw 26 pitches. In his next one, he threw 41. Typically, pitchers add about 15 pitches in each start through spring training – and Sale has two starts left. If the Sox push a little, Sale should throw about 80 pitches in his final start of the regular season next week.

Then they would bump him to 95 or 100 for the playoff opener on Oct. 5.

Aug 12, 2018, Baltimore, MD: Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale throws a pitch in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)
Aug 12, 2018, Baltimore, MD: Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale throws a pitch in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t you feel better if Sale actually threw 100 pitches in a game before the playoffs? And ideally wouldn’t that have been in his next outing? (If the Sox want to scale back in the last one, no problem.) Here’s the point: at some point, if you’re training for a marathon, you actually have to run the distance. On the day of the race, you don’t just show up and run 26 miles for the first time.

And least not if you want to win it.

Now, is it possible that Sale is further along than we all believe and that he has made up ground in the bullpen after and between starts? Of course. But the spring training model should scare you a little bit. When most pitchers start the season, they don’t do so with the idea of throwing 110 pitches on Opening Day. And that approach makes total sense in April because you have 162 games to play.

But in October? Different story. You need to hit the ground at full stride. And while Sale was effective in April this year, take a look at his pitch counts and, subsequently, his innings in his 2018 game log:

(Stats via Baseball-Reference.com)

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want Sale on the mound for five or six innings in the playoffs come October. Given the problems in the Red Sox bullpen, I want him out there for a minimum of seven, preferably eight. And based on the current pace, Sale doesn’t look like he’ll be much more than a six-inning pitcher on Oct. 5.

If that’s what you and the Red Sox are happy with, you all should be aiming higher.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.