If Chris Sale were having a slightly more ordinary season, his rough day-turned-night against Cleveland could be shrugged off as an insignificant end featuring meaningful means. By pitching 5⅔ innings, he surpassed the 200-inning barrier for the first time in his career, and by striking out seven, he pulled within one strikeout of Gary Peters' modern-day franchise record of 215.
The importance of 200 innings can't be brushed aside for a young pitcher who is trying to establish himself as the ace of the next great White Sox rotation. What's more impressive is that Sale beat Mark Buehrle to 200 innings, and in three fewer starts. Buehrle should get there in one more start, as he's at 194⅓ after an inefficient five against the Orioles on Sunday.
Alas, Sale is not only striving for personal milestones -- he's trying to build a case for the Cy Young Award, and he seemed to be building momentum with a string of strong starts while Max Scherzer stalls on 19 wins. Voters are getting better about looking past win-loss records, but I don't think 12 wins could beat 20 wins if there weren't huge differences in ERA, strikeouts and/or innings. Sale had a puncher's chance of usurping Scherzer as the front-runner, but only if he nailed every start.
Instead, he gave up ground. Before the Indians battered Sale on Sunday night, Scherzer pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Royals, striking out 12. After the day's action, Detroit's No. 1 regained the edge in ERA (2.95 to 3.08) while building on his strikeout margin (227 to 214) and matching Sale's total of innings. Barring a massive swap in fortunes over their final starts, it's hard to imagine Sale making up the difference.
What sucks is that Sale would have it all wrapped up if it weren't for those meddling Indians. Instead, his Cy Young hopes may have met their Little Big Horn. He's allowed six or more runs in four starts this year, and three have come against Cleveland. Sale said the Tribe seemed to have his number, and the numbers back up that sentiment:
It's difficult to draw any far-reaching conclusions from these lines, though. Last year, Sale had few problems against Cleveland, but struggled against Detroit, and Kansas City to a lesser extent. This time around, the Indians are the only thorn in his side, and it's one that digs in at an inopportune time -- not just because Sale is chasing hardware, but because the Sox have lost 12 straight games to one team for the first time since dropping a dozen to the Red Sox across 1921 and 1922 (and they've never lost 13 straight to anybody).
If these Cleveland starts end up being the only blemishes on Sale's 2013, then I'm pretty sure everybody could accept that. Even without the award, it's still incredible that Sale has two Cy Young cases at the age of 24. Two-hundred innings of ace-caliber pitching is accomplishment enough for now.