September 22, 2014
LOS ANGELES — Before Chris Sale went on the disabled list with a flexor muscle strain, his ERA was a stingy 2.30 with 29 strikeouts and seven walks. In 18 innings over three starts since his return, Sale has given up one run on four hits and one walk while striking out 23.
As we watch this somewhat brief but most extraordinary run of pitching excellence, consider that it all might be for naught. There’s a good chance it won’t contribute to a postseason experience.
If Sale goes 16-5 with a 2.20 ERA and wins the Cy Young, and the Sox finish 81-81 and six games out of a wild-card spot, that would be OK with Sale. He knows his seasons of pitching productivity are like pieces of gold, but he’s on board with general manager Rick Hahn’s goal to be golden in 2015, ’16 and beyond.
“If you want to win every year, he has a good philosophy going,’’ Sale said. “Let’s not hit the panic button and start doing stuff to please everyone. Let’s do something to make a lasting impression to make a three-, four-, five-year run at the playoffs.’’
Sale, who is signed to a rich yet club-friendly $32.5 million contract that runs through 2017 with club options for two additional years, would be around for that run. It’s one reason why he and the Sox cautiously waited an extra week or so to come off the disabled list. In another year, at another point of the season, he might have come back sooner.
Sale, 25, who wants to win now as much as the next guy, gets the long-range vision.
“You have a much better chance at winning a championship when you get into the playoffs three, four, five years in a row,’’ he said. “It’s like poker. You can go all in on the first hand, and it could work out for you but you could be left with nothing. I completely agree with [Hahn]. And he’s said it: It’s not that he’s giving up on the 2014 White Sox, it’s just that he has a bigger goal down the road, and I think it’s a good way to go about it.’’
The trade deadline is two months away, and if Hahn believes a playoff push is a reasonable goal, he will consider parting with prospects for a pitcher, outfielder, reliever or whatever is needed. The only untouchable prospect is prized infielder Micah Johnson.
“Opportunities to win are sacred,’’ Hahn said over the weekend. “If we are in a position where we feel we have a real chance to win, we will address whatever needs we feel exist at that time to enhance those chances. At the same time, we are not going to do anything that’s going to compromise our longer-term goals.’’
These Sox, who took a 29-30 record into their late game against the Dodgers on Tuesday, believe meaningful games in August and September are possible. And they know, even with Sale, Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez having All-Star seasons, they’re not the Detroit Tigers.
“That’s a fair assessment,’’ Sale said. “We know what we have to go up against; it’s not going to be easy. But nobody expected us to be where we are right now, so who’s to say we can’t make more surprises happen?’’
Said second baseman Gordon Beckham: “There’s a long way to go and it’s too early to know [how good we are], but we have shown we can piece together wins despite some injuries. We’re resilient, and if you’re that, you feel like you’re never out of it. That’s the vibe we get in here, we’re never out of a game, and if we lose a couple games, we come back and win that next game and keep going. We don’t put too much pressure on ourselves.
“There’s possibilities, and we’re inching closer to the Tigers.’’