For Sale and Chicago White Sox, playoff clock is ticking

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale acknowledges the crowd after breaking the franchise record with his 270th strikeout last season.

    Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale acknowledges the crowd after breaking the franchise record with his 270th strikeout last season. Associated Press/Oct. 2, 2015

 
 
Updated 3/15/2016 5:15 PM

Even with all of the accomplishments on his resume, Chris Sale is only 26 years old and the big-league baseball calendar dictates he is just now entering his prime.

But in another sense, Sale is running out of time with the Chicago White Sox.

 

Heading into his seventh season on the South Side, Sale ranks second in seniority behind John Danks. He's still waiting to make his first trip to the playoffs.

"It's the only reason we are here," Sale said last month when spring training opened. "It's the most important reason. You don't start off every year to say 'I want to have a good year and go home early'. The point is to get to the playoffs, and no matter how we get there, who gets us there or the position we are in when we get there, that's the whole point."

For the Sox to make their first postseason appearance since 2008, Sale must lead the way on the pitching side.

"Facing him, he was really challenging," said Dioner Navarro, one of the team's two newcomers, along with Alex Avila, behind the plate. "Now, I'm looking forward to catching him."

While going 13-11 with a 3.41 ERA in 2015, Sale led the American League with 274 strikeouts, which also established a franchise record.

Looking back, it was not a stellar season for the Sox ace.

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After being sidelined almost all of spring training and opening the season on the disabled list with a fractured right foot, Sale was 2-1 with a 5.93 ERA over his first five starts. He was also suspended five games for his actions during an April 23 brawl with the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field.

It was vintage Sale in the next 12 starts from May 12 to the all-star break -- a 6-3 record, 1.76 ERA and 131 strikeouts over 92 innings.

But as the White Sox faded in the second half en route to their third straight losing season, Sale regressed as well. In 14 starts after the break, the left-hander was 5-7 with a 4.33 ERA. September was particularly rough, when Sale was 0-4 with a 5.04 ERA.

Even baseball's best starters routinely run out of gas down the stretch, but Sale said that wasn't the case.

"I know it didn't look pretty, but I felt strong at the end of the year," he said. "A lot of people get caught up in the numbers, and they were terrible. But I felt strong, I felt good.

"Even mentally, even though I was struggling down the stretch, I still had the confidence to go out there because I knew my arm was strong and my body felt good."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To keep their top starting pitcher fresh, Sale has yet to appear in a Cactus League game this spring. But after throwing in another minor-league "B" game on Monday, Sale is lined up to pitch for the White Sox in a major-league game this weekend.

"I think it's time to get out to the big field and start playing with the grown-ups, no offense to anybody," Sale told reporters. "There's something to be said for fans being there, being in a big stadium, hearing the noise."

• Follow Scot's reports on Twitter@scotgregor.

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