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White Sox Mon Jul 07 2014
The National and American League All-Star rosters were released last night, and though Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu will each represent the White Sox on the AL team, Chris Sale is on the outside looking in. For now.
Sale still has a chance to make the team. He'll be on the Final Vote list, so fans can vote between him and four other AL team hopefuls on MLB.com. People can even tweet about Sale with the hashtag #TargetSale if they are so inclined. While Sale has been phenomenal this year, two things put a damper on his All-Star chances: he missed one-fourth of this season and the other AL pitchers are really good.
Sale is 8-1, but more importantly he has a 2.16 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP and a 2.49 FIP (second-best in the AL). His ERA-plus of 188 leads the league. Save for a four-run outing against the Angels, every one of Sale's starts has ranged from good to great. He's pitched as well as he ever has in a Sox uniform.
He missed a month of action, though, with a flexor muscle strain. And that caveat gives just enough pause to his cause. In such a small sample size (one-half of an MLB season), it's tough to give Sale the nod over other similarly qualified AL pitchers who didn't miss any time. Let's examine that.
Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka are absolute shoo-ins. Mark Buehrle and Scott Kazmir have pitched well for surprisingly good and great teams, respectively, and both have that feel-good-story vibe to them. Definitely not the most logical reasoning, but the All-Star game is built on those types of inclusions. The best debate is between Sale, David Price, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester.
Scherzer has been good this year but he's a step down from last year. Though Sale is more deserving, Scherzer presumably got the nod because the Tigers are in first place and he's pitched 30 more innings than Sale. As for Lester and Price, they each are their teams' lone representative and every team needs a rep. Sale loses out on getting one of their spots (Lester and Price have been very good and have pitched 30 and 40 more innings than Sale, respectively, too).
That leaves the players on the Final Vote ballot, all starting pitchers. Rick Porcello and Dallas Keuchel have both been streaky. Porcello has been aided by a strong showing his last few starts, back-to-back shutouts along with another six-inning outing with zero runs. Keuchel was a man possessed in May, with two complete games, a 8.2 IP win and two other quality starts that lowered his ERA from 3.96 to 2.70. All together though, Porcello and Keuchel had their shares of stinker starts, so Sale has the edge.
Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber are Sale's best competition. Richards got a little buzz before the season but has wildly exceeded all expectations, with a 2.81 ERA and 134 ERA-plus. He's been consistent and reliable for the Angels this year, the rock of a pitching staff of a second-place team. Corey Kluber has a 2.99 ERA and a 9.7 K/9 ratio, and he brings it just about every start. Richards, Kluber and Sale all have similar stats and similar strikes against them. Richards has had a few not-so-good outings, Kluber's overall stats don't pop, and Sale missed a month. It's somewhat of a toss-up with those three.
But here's what breaks that dilemma: If the game is viewed a competitive contest between the best players in the two baseball leagues (after all, the game determines home field advantage in the World Series), then Sale really needs to be in this game. His best games -- like his 10 strikeouts and only one hit in six innings against the Yankees, or his complete game against the Padres where he only allowed two base runners -- have been better than all his competitors.
The debate between longevity versus short bursts (or, at its core, quantity versus quality) about the great AL pitchers who've pitched all year versus the very great Sale who missed a month can be solved by this: If he's called upon to enter the fifth inning of a tied All-Star game, he's the best bet among the Final Vote guys to get a 1-2-3 inning.
#TargetSale would not be a bad choice at all.