1. Chris Sale can dial it up to 11. It's OK if you were worried about the big man. After throwing back-to-back complete games to get to nine straight wins to open the season, the Chicago White Sox ace had been knocked around in three of his next four turns. He has given up 43 baserunners, 17 earned runs and five homers in only 22 &fra23; innings pitched. Then you add in that it involved getting beaten up by the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals (twice) and Detroit Tigers in quick succession, teams he's only going to see more of.
Whether it was a case of needing to recover from a heavy initial workload or having to mix things or a bit of both, against the Tigers on Wednesday night, Sale went to his fastball more than he has all season. He threw a season-high 83 heaters, more than half of them on the inside half of the plate, while keeping his velocity in the mid-90s all the way into the seventh inning. It wasn't an entirely awesome start for Sale -- light-hitting Jose Iglesias went yard with a two-run fence-scraper for his first career home run hit to right field, after all.
Chris Sale is no stranger to 120-pitch starts. He threw 127 against the Red Sox on 4-17-14 (and missed the next month). At 119 through 7.— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) June 16, 2016
Sale wouldn't pitch any further than that. Add it up, and it was good for an MLB-leading 11th win. More important, it showed some adjustments that might have people guessing when facing Sale again. That should help in the starts and months to come, even if it helps kill off the suggestion that this year Sale is supposed to be more pitch-efficient. He's averaging 3.90 pitches per batter this year, having averaged 3.89 in his career.
2. Damn straight, Freddie Freeman is still in this league. Freeman delivered the first cycle of the season, which instantly became the highlight of the Atlanta Braves' year, coming in their extra-inning win over the Cincinnati Reds. Somebody might kvetch that it took an extra-inning game between two of the worst teams in baseball to get Freeman the extra at-bats to do it, but somebody hitting for the cycle is always a win, not just with trivia buffs.
Only 3 Braves have hit for the cycle since 1911-- Albert Hall (1987), Mark Kotsay (2008), Freddie Freeman (2016)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2016
Well I'm glad the Braves didn't totally waste Freddie Freeman's cycle. Sorry Reds fans.— Stacey Gotsulias (@StaceGots) June 16, 2016
Freeman's 1.007 OPS in June might rank 30th overall among MLB hitters but, after a slow start, it suggests that he might finally bust out the way some of us thought he would.
3. We should just name Clayton Kershaw the National League starter in the All-Star Game and get it over with. It says something about how much Kershaw has warped expectations every time he touches the ball, but giving up a home run, a walk, and two scores with "just" 11 strikeouts can seem like a workmanlike effort. That's how much he has spoiled us, and perhaps how easy it has become to take him for granted. But after the news that five Chicago Cubs players are leading in NL All-Star voting, you might wonder if they wouldn't be joined by Jake Arrieta at the start of the game. We don't get to vote on pitchers, but there are really only two appropriate selections for the starter: Arrieta or Kershaw. And I'll just cite games like this one from Kershaw among the reasons why it has to be him. As good as Arrieta has been, if your standard for All-Star assignments is this year's performance, you pick Kershaw: better ERA, better WHIP, higher strikeout rate while carrying a heavier load for a worse team. If your standard for All-Stars is longer-term, across 2014-2016 all of those things still remain true.
4. You may not recognize the Royals, but they're still the Royals. The Indians are in first place in the AL Central, they had Corey Kluber going and -- on the day they cut Omar Infante -- the Royals had only four lineup regulars inked in to face the Tribe's ace. Result? The Royals completed their sweep of the Indians and climbed back into first place as K.C. keeps its latest hot streak going.
The Royals' last 19 games go like this: WWWWWWLLLLLLLLWWWWW. Do not ride this attraction if you are pregnant or have a seizure disorder.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) June 16, 2016
You might not be familiar with Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Paulo Orlando, but between the hard-hit balls in play and the wins, you should be familiar with the results. Now, speaking of familiar Royals issues, if they could only find another starting pitcher or two ...
5. Keep on worrying about Sonny Gray. Five shutout innings into his turn against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, you might have thought Gray was completing his recovery. But giving up five earned runs during the sixth inning while facing the lineup for the third time added questions about Gray's ability to pitch deep into games. His velocity was fine, but the short righty got killed on fastballs he left up in the zone to Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos -- spoiling a night in which he'd initially done a good job inducing ground-ball outs.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.