Chicago White Sox (35-53) at Detroit Tigers (50-40)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: LHP Chris Sale (5-8, 2.78 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (7-5, 2.70 ERA)
There were some questions about Sale's durability after he finished the 2012 season with a 2-3 record and 4.11 ERA in September. He had only pitched 71.0 innings in 2011 and his mechanics from the left side make you question what exactly that ulnar collateral ligament of his is made out of. Regardless, that didn't stop the White Sox from signing him to a five year, $32.5 million contract extension during the offseason, buying out his arbitration years. Sale has made the deal look like a steal so far, putting up 3.4 fWAR in just 16 starts this year.
Sale leads the American League by averaging over seven innings per start. He is striking out over a batter per inning while walking a paltry 1.99 batters per nine innings. His 0.96 WHIP is third in the American League among qualified starters, behind fellow all-stars Hisashi Iwakuma and Max Scherzer. He's getting ahead of hitters more often this year -- his first strike percentage is over 7% higher this season -- and it's having devastating effects. Opposing hitters have a .521 OPS against Sale after an 0-1 count.
How good has Sale been? He relies on just three pitches: a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup. His slider ranks six runs above average this year according to PitchFX... and it's the worst of the three. He uses the slider over 40% of the time against lefties, so it's no surprise that they're hitting .125/.195/.138 against him this season. Righties have an OPS almost twice that of lefties against Sale, but a .616 OPS isn't exactly something to write home about.
Here's the scary part: Sanchez has been even better at Comerica Park this year. In six home starts, Sanchez has allowed just eight earned runs in 44 innings, good enough for a 1.64 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting just .169/.213/.240 off him. He has nearly twice as many strikeouts (63) as total bases allowed (37) at Comerica this year. If he was rusty in his first start off the disabled list on Saturday, we didn't see it, as he allowed just one run on three hits in five innings. Expect Sanchez's pitch count to be anywhere from 90-100 pitches today as he continues to build up arm strength after his time on the DL.
If we didn't already have a whale of a pitcher's duel to look back upon in 2013, it might be fair to peg this as one of the best matchups we will see all season. Sale has been dominant all season long, save for one start in Cleveland, and Sanchez's home numbers speak for themselves. It may only take a run or two to win this game unless either bullpen says otherwise.
Sale dominates, impresses Jim Leyland, and starts the All-Star Game on Tuesday.