Chris Sale had no trouble earning his 17th win of the season, tying his career-high set in 2012, in what may have been his final start of the season.
Sale pitched seven innings and recorded seven strikeouts as the White Sox offense powered past the Tampa Bay Rays 13-6 on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sale also allowed three earned runs on eight hits and no walks. It was Sale’s 16th career game with at least seven strikeouts and no walks — a franchise record by a wide margin —according to CSN’s stat guru Chris Kamka.
"I feel as good now as I ever have on a baseball field, physically," Sale said. "I think this year was the best overall in terms of feeling strong at the end and still having more in the tank."
"I’ve said it a lot of times before and I can’t stress to you enough, how awesome the people I have in my corner helping me get back out there every fifth day. That starts in the offseason. It trickles into spring training. I thought we had a really good spring training mindset in getting just enough to where you feel good and this is what we wanted.
"We wanted me to feel good at the end of the year. I think we accomplished that goal. Unfortunately it’s for nothing, but it still is what it is."
Sale said his goal this season was to eat up innings and go deeper into games to help out his bullpen. He's done just that, having worked 221.2 innings this season, extending his career high.
"We went into this year knowing what we were going to get ourselves into," Sale said. "Just trying to do something better for the long haul and looking back, I got burned a couple of times. Just like anybody, though. It’s not to say I wouldn’t have done the same thing in previous years. So, you just make some adjustments and go forward."
With five games left, Ventura hasn’t decided if Sale will make one more start before the 2016 campaign ends — or even in a White Sox uniform.
Sale reiterated that he'd like to be back in Chicago next season, but it's not up to him.
"I can’t say this from experience, but I don’t think there’s probably a better feeling than winning with the team that drafted you and staying with the team that drafted you," Sale said. "Talking with Paulie (Konerko) a little bit in his final year, he definitely had some very good things to say about staying with one team and being here from start to finish. All of that going into it, yeah. But this is baseball, this is sports. You can’t always choose and pick what you want to do or where you want to be."
The White Sox extended their winning streak to four games. The last time they won four consecutive games was July 23-26 against the Cleveland Indians and Cubs. The White Sox had winning streaks of at least four games three times in their first 33 games of the season.
Eaton went 2-for-5 with two runs, an RBI and a double in his return to the lineup after missing three games with an injury.
Tim Anderson got things started with an RBI single in the first and RBI double in the second. Anderson also added a solo homer in the eighth inning.
Melky Cabrera hit his 14th homer of the season in the first, bumping his RBI total to 82 on the year, five shy from his career-high.
In the third, Leury Garcia smacked his first homer of the year, a three-run shot to left-center field to extend the White Sox lead to 8-2. Two more runs were scored in the fifth on a fielder’s choice and an error. Jason Coats, pinch-hitting for Justin Morneau, and Todd Frazier each had an RBI single in the eighth.
Sale issued a two-run double to former White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez in the second and a homer to Curt Casali in the fourth.
This season hasn’t exactly turned out the way the White Sox had hoped.
The White Sox took Major League Baseball by storm after beginning the season at 23-10, which led the American League Central by six games at the time.
But since then, the White Sox have been climbing an uphill battle. They lost 20 of their next 26 games and found themselves fighting to stay above .500.
The White Sox brought in reinforcements in an effort to get their season back on track, adding designated hitter Justin Morneau (via free agency), veteran pitcher James Shields (via trade from San Diego Padres) and 23-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson (Triple-A Charlotte).
But the White Sox still couldn’t make things click.
“I think you learn how guys struggle and how they try and get out of it,” said manager Robin Ventura. “You see guys that continue to grind through it and try to find it. Some guys find it quicker than other guys. I think the biggest thing is their ability to grind through it.”
The White Sox were officially eliminated from the postseason last Friday and will finish with their fourth straight losing season.
What happens over the offseason remains a mystery. It’s uncertain how their opening roster will look like next season.
If little changes are made, Adam Eaton believes the White Sox can still be contenders in 2017.
“There is a lot of talent here,” Eaton said. “There are a lot of good baseball players in here. It’s not the year we thought. And I think with that exact quote, ‘It’s not the year that we thought,’ if we brought the guys back I think we might have the year we thought we would have.
“The camaraderie is great in here. It’s tough to say whether people will be leaving or whether additions will be added. I’m sure moves will be made. In the game of baseball, there’s never an offseason that’s quiet, I feel like. Whatever Rick (Hahn) and the organization sees would be more functional for this team to be better and more consistent on a day-to-day basis, then that’s what they see in the team.
“If I’m in those plans, great. If not, then it kind of stinks. But if they want me in this uniform next year, I’ll be proud to wear it and I’ll put everything I have on the field again like I did this year.”
Time will tell which direction the White Sox decide to go in. Will they continue to add immediate impact players and build around the same group? Make a few tweaks? Or perhaps even tear it all down and start from scratch?
One thing is for sure, it will be a busy offseason for the White Sox one way or another.
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If the White Sox decide to make any drastic changes like trade Chris Sale — who was a hot topic of discussion around the trade deadline — Eaton knows exactly what he'd do if they faced one another.
“Take the day off,” Eaton said. “No, I don’t want to give away too much because I hope I’m never on that side. Just see ball, hit ball. Be simple. Have a simple approach off him because he can make you look foolish at times. Just have a good competitive at-bat.
“But like I said, easier said than done. He’s made a lot of people look foolish. I hope I’ll never have to do that, to be honest with you. I’d love to be on his team for the rest of my life.”