MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Sale’s dominance is unsurprising after the lanky left-hander signed with the Boston Red Sox as the prize free agent of the offseason.
Minnesota Twins right-hander Ervin Santana is coming off a decent 2016 season, but he’s long flown under the radar. Santana, at least as the run-prevention numbers go, has pitched better than Sale this season.
The two will meet up in an anticipated and unlikely historic matchup on Sunday in the series finale.
“Ervin a little more finesse, Sale’s got the big arm,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out. We’re not going to try to make too big an issue of it, other than the fact that we have a chance to win a series and maybe finish a pretty good homestand 4-2.
“It should be a good game. We’re going to have another nice day and hopefully we can respond a little bit better than we did today.”
Both managers tried to downplay the pitching matchup, but it features two pitchers with an ERA under 1.40. Santana is 5-0 this season with a 0.66 ERA. Sale is 2-2 with a 1.38 ERA. According to STATS, it’s the fourth matchup since the mounds were lowered in 1969 that involves starting pitchers with at least six starts and an ERA under 1.40.
Santana has won five of his six starts and allowed no more than one run in each outing. He has struck out 33 batters in 41 innings.
Sale has the big strikeout numbers, leading the majors with 63 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings.
“We get excited every time Chris Sale walks to the mound, regardless of who he is pitching against,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Chris Sale has been fun to watch. He’s on a strong roll in his own right. It’s billed as a good pitching matchup tomorrow.”
Sale has struck out at least 10 batters in each of his past five starts. The only other Boston pitcher to accomplish the feat was Pedro Martinez.
“It’s special,” Sale told WEEI after his last outing, an 11-strikeout victory against Baltimore. “I don’t put a whole lot of weight in those kind of things — numbers, stats, that kind of stuff. But when you’re talking about him, that’s special, and I appreciate that.”
Boston might be ready to give Sale a bit more run support, too. The Red Sox entered Saturday 13th in the American League in runs, but put together 16 hits for a season-high 11 runs to even the series.
Outielder Chris Young hit two homers and catcher Sandy Leon had three hits, including a home run. Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi each had three hits.
“The sky’s the limit,” Young said. “I think that’s pretty obvious with the guys that we have in the lineup on a day-to-day basis, that any day can be that day. But every day can’t be that day. You can’t do that every day. But the days that we show up and things work out, it works out and some days it won’t. That’s just the nature of the game, but it doesn’t take anything away from our offense if we just don’t have it that day.
“The ability is there and we have the right pieces in the right places, and sooner than later it’s going to start coming together, and hopefully continue to stack on each other, start bunching them together a little bit.”
Runs will likely be at a premium on Sunday, and Minnesota will likely be without second baseman Brian Dozier and center fielder Byron Buxton. Dozier missed Saturday’s game and won’t play Sunday due to a sprained ankle. Dozier has hit .289 with three homers in 38 career at-bats against Sale.
Buxton has been sore and experience headaches after crashing into the wall in Thursday’s game.