CHICAGO -- Let's play a little game called "Guess the American League Cy Young favorite."
One candidate features a 3.01 ERA and has allowed a mere 139 hits over 194 1/3 innings following the White Sox 5-1 victory over the Tigers on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field. The second, less-talked-about starter has an ERA checking in at 2.90 and has yielded 162 hits over a career-best 195 2/3 innings.
Candidate No. 1 has fanned 215 and walked 48, while Candidate No. 2 pushed his strikeout total to 207 on Monday and his free passes to 41.
Where fWar is concerned, the first choice stood at 5.7 entering Monday, while No. 2 had an fWar of 4.8.
Detroit's Max Scherzer, who would be candidate No. 1 in this scenario, and Chicago's Chris Sale, who would be candidate No. 2, both have statistics infinitely worthy of the highest pitching honor. It just so happens that Scherzer pitches on a better team, helping him get to 19 wins and the unofficial title of Cy Young favorite, while Sale picked up just his 11th victory in the opener of a three-game set.
"The win-loss record for Chris doesn't show what he's done this year on the mound," said White Sox catcher Josh Phegley, who was behind the plate as Sale improved to 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA over four starts against the Tigers this year. "It helps to be playing for Detroit and getting the run support, not to take anything away from Scherzer, because he's a great pitcher."
Sale (11-12) worked eight innings against the Tigers (82-62), striking out eight and walking just one. The only run scored by Detroit came via Victor Martinez's seventh-inning solo shot, leaving the Tigers designated hitter with 11 hits in 19 career at-bats against Sale.
For the sixth straight start, Sale threw at least seven innings. He has won five of his last six decisions and has allowed more than three earned runs just once in his last seven trips to the mound.
Words such as confident and comfortable describe Sale's current demeanor, to go along with his first-rate stuff.
"This is as well as I have seen him pitch this year as far as feeling at ease, throwing all of his pitches at any time," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura.
"Just trying to pound the strike zone, fill up the zone. Make quality pitches," said Sale of his 114-pitch night. "That's a good team. You have to be on your A game. You have to take advantage when you can and it worked out tonight."
Scherzer (19-3) worked a season-low four innings, yielding five runs (four earned) on six hits. He struck out six and walked two. Sale also had the advantage of not facing the game's best hitter after Miguel Cabrera was ejected by home-plate umpire Brian Gorman during his first at-bat.
Cabrera thought a pitch hit his right leg on the second pitch, but Gorman ruled he swung at it. Cabrera fouled off the next pitch but continued to argue and was thrown out. Detroit manager Jim Leyland also was ejected in the ensuing argument, giving him 72 ejections for his career.
When asked about not having to face Cabrera, Sale joked that it's not a bad thing when "the best hitter to ever walk the planet" makes a very early exit. He continued the joke saying that he looked skyward and said, 'Thank you,' after the ejection.
Gorman told a pool reporter that Cabrera continued to argue about the swing part of the apparent hit by pitch. He was warned and was ejected for continuing to argue.
Phegley had a close-up view of the argument and was surprised by the ejection.
"I didn't know he said, 'Get out of here,' and threw him out," Phegley said. "I thought he said, 'That's enough.' But it probably helped us win the game."
The White Sox scored two runs in the first inning on Paul Konerko's two-out single to center. They added three more two-out runs in the fourth on four straight hits, with Dayan Viciedo and Phegley picked up RBIs, while a throwing error by Scherzer scored the third.
"These guys are big league hitters," Scherzer said. "They always have a plan against you, especially this team, and obviously their plan succeeded tonight."
Despite being officially eliminated from any sort of playoff competition with Tampa Bay's win Sunday, the White Sox (58-85) still managed to extend their winning streak to two games. Sale continued his strong '14 finish, sprinting to the finish line instead of limping in September last year, as he put it.
Ultimately, being there for his team stands as more of a reward for Sale than any sort of postseason honor.
"For me, it's one day at a time, one game at a time," said Sale, who became the fastest in franchise history to reach 200 strikeouts in a season when he fanned Austin Jackson to end the third. "Whatever that [Cy Young] stuff happens to be, it is. I'm not trying to put too much emphasis on it. Just go out there and do everything I can to win that game."
"Best part about him, he's a lot like [Mark] Buehrle was here," said Konerko of Sale and his fourth-lowest run support among big league starters. "He's all about the team and never once did he ever --- he has not complained and has been behind his teammates the whole way. Not a bad word he'll say about anybody, so that's how you get respect from your teammates, and he has earned that."