Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 8/13/12

Wednesday night I went to the White Sox game and watched the team get shut down by the Royals, losing the rubber match of the series.

After the game, probably in an attempt to cheer myself up, I treated myself to a Chris Sale jersey-shirt. I like to buy one a year to slowly add to my collection, and figured I couldn’t go wrong with Sale.

He’s a flame-throwing left hander who has burst on to the scene in the big leagues during his first year as a starter. Currently standing at 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA, Sale has catapulted himself into the conversation of the league’s best.

Sale showed a lot of emotion in his win over KC Monday. Credit: sacbee.com

This year, there have been five starters in the AL who have really separated themselves from the pack. They rank, in my opinion, as follows:

  1. Jered Weaver: 15-1, 2.14 ERA
  2. David Price: 14-4, 2.49 ERA
  3. Chris Sale: 13-3, 2.59 ERA
  4. Justin Verlander: 12-7, 2.51 ERA
  5. Felix Hernandez: 10-5, 2.74 ERA

First and foremost, I’d like to remind you that this is not me ranking the best pitchers in the American League. It’s simply a list of who I think has been best, in order, in 2012.

And just for the record, 2 through 5 could go in almost any order. So relax, Tigers fans. I have just as much respect for Verlander as anyone else.

While pitchers like CC Sabathia, C.J. Wilson, Matt Harrison, and others do deserve mention, I think the five guys listed above have separated themselves as 2012′s best and, in turn, are the best Cy Young Award candidates.

That’s how good Sale has been this year: he definitely deserves some votes in that category.

But when a tall, lanky flame-thrower does so well in his first year as a SP, many people are hesitant to buy high on him as one of the league’s best. I’ve heard a lot of people doubt that he’ll be able to keep that up over his career because “the league will catch up to him” or because “he’s just on a hot streak.”

But I beg to differ.

He’s got the deception of Weaver, the stuff of King Felix, and other tenacious tendencies of great pitchers we’d all pay money to see. While those are all technically opinions, his more in-depth stats back up the argument as well.

Here are some some of Sale’s stats put into perspective…

  • 1.02 WHIP trails only Weaver (0.92) and Verlander (0.98)
  • Trails league-leader Verlander in IP by 36.2 innings, but has made 4 fewer starts
  • Averages only .44 IP less than Verlander per start (a little over 1 out)
  • Verlander only fans about 1/2 batters more per 9 IP
  • Leads the AL in defense-independent ERA

This list could go on for quite a while, as Sale is near the top in most pitching categories.

Any way you look at it, Sale is one of the league’s best.

Does he deserve to be in the discussion with the other four elites quite yet? Probably not for any long-term or historical discussions…but for right now, in this 2012 regular season, he definitely does deserve to be in that company.

After Sale’s velocity dipped in a couple recent starts, health concerns resurfaced. After all, he is reaching new career highs in IP, as we all expected when he was placed into the rotation. But after 9 days of rest, he came out and dominated a solid Kansas City Royals lineup, throwing 93-95 MPH on most occasions and looking as healthy and rested as we’ve seen him in a while.

What does that mean for the rest of the White Sox season? That on a couple of occasions we may need to give him an extra day or two of rest. And if we can do that, we should continue to see the phenomenal results we have since early April.

In order to win a World Series, you need to have a couple of things going for you in today’s game. For one, you have to get hot at the right time, like the up-and-dow

n 2011 Cardinals did last September and October. And second, you need to have starting pitchers who can put the team on their backs and win you any given game, no matter the opponent.

Some are high on the Sox rotation as a whole and some are skeptical, saying that it’s full of question marks. But no matter your opinion, no one can deny that Chris Sale is the ace the south siders need to be able to take must-win games throughout the playoff race; and maybe, one day sooner than later, in October, too.

So how should you put Chris Sale’s 2012 into perspective? I say not as just good or impressive, but as dominantly elite.

(All research through Friday, 8/10)

This post was originally featured on Zach’s White Sox fan site, GrabSomeBench.com … follow them on Twitter @Grab_Some_Bench and like “Grab Some Bench” on Facebook!

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