August 14th, 2012
When the Tigers added Prince Fielder before the 2012 season they were thrust into the World Series conversation, and immediately dubbed the clear cut AL Central favorite. With reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and top of the line hitter Miguel Cabrera, Fielder was looked at as the final piece that would catapult Detroit to the next level.
And who would stand in their way? Kansas City and Minnesota were thought to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before Opening Day, and that has thus far panned out. The ambiguous Indians would eventually stick to their usual routine of shocking the world up to the All-Star break, then quietly, but quickly cooling off. That left the White Sox; Chicago’s less relevant, but historically more successful baseball team. With an aging core featuring Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzysnki, a spotty outfield depending on the bat of Alex Rios, and a pitching staff mourning the departure of Mark Buehrle, that forced them to place supreme trust in one Jake Peavy, Chicago seemed no more threatening than the Tribe, Royals, or Twins entering the season. If the White Sox planned to compete with the star studded Tigers, they would need to refine their pitching staff, and did so by making an internal decision that would change their season.
In 2011, 22 year old Chris Sale was an effective left handed reliever out of the White Sox bullpen. He posted a 2-2 record, grabbed 8 saves, and struck out 79 batters in 71 innings pitched, but despite his relief success, the White Sox wouldn’t keep him there for long. In 2010 they drafted Sale with the 13th overall pick out of Florida Gulf Coast College, and put him in a Major League uniform later that season. While the average drafted pitcher is sent to the Minors for some guidance and fine tuning, Chicago had other plans for Sale from the start, his stuff was just too nasty. So when it came time to fill a void left by Mark Buehrle, why look past the 22 year old Sale? Who virtually skipped Minor League Baseball and never started a Major League game. Well, simply because he virtually skipped Minor League Baseball and never started a Major League game. Regardless, the White Sox gave Sale a spot in the five man rotation, and the South Side Sox have ridden his left arm ever since.
As of August 14th, Sale is 14-3 with a 2.60 ERA, 132 strikeouts and a WHIP just over 1.00. He won five straight decisions from May 17th to June 9th, and struck out 15 batters over 7.1 innings in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay during that streak. Additionally, Sale did not lose a decision from May 17th to July 15th, two impressive feats that helped to earn him a spot on the AL All-Star team earlier this year. But this is not the classic case of a young unknown starter having artificial success; Sale’s stuff is utterly wicked. He generally relies on his fastball, that runs up the zone in the mid-nineties, to command counts, and his slider, that defies the laws of physics, to strike hitters out at a rapid pace. Lefties have no chance, and righties aren’t much better, just ask Oakland’s lineup that he struck out 11 times on August 12th, or Seattle’s where he struck out the same number in just his third start of his career on April 20th.
Sale has put himself neck and neck with Angels’ Jered Weaver in the AL Cy Young race, and has additionally placed the White Sox at the forefront of the AL Central (leading Detroit by 2.0 games entering play tonight). Remember when we all thought that Prince Fielder would make the biggest splash in the AL Central this year? He went 0 for 4 against the 180 pound lefty on July 21th, and has ultimately struck out against him on the entire season, and while this may be a shock to us all, it’s probably Not For Sale.