Through two months (just about) of the 2012 MLB season, the American League Cy Young race features some usual suspects and one not-so-usual suspect.
That would be Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale. He hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention, but he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball for the month of May, and his numbers for the season are all solid. His first season as a starting pitcher is going pretty well.
The question is where Sale ranks among the competition for the AL Cy Young. Is he up there with Jake Peavy and Justin Verlander, or does he still have work to do before we can call him one of the Junior Circuit's elite pitchers?
Good question. The answer lies within my updated AL Cy Young award rankings.
Note: Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
Last Week: Unranked
Here's your answer. Chris Sale is among the top contenders for the AL Cy Young award, but just barely.
Whatever you do, don't take this as a slight. The fact that Sale is in the top five at all is a heck of a compliment, and he's definitely earned it.
Sale has outstanding numbers across the board. He has only made nine starts, and he's won six of them. Entering Tuesday's action, his 2.34 ERA ranked second in the American League, and his 1.01 WHIP ranked fourth.
Sale is nothing if not a strikeout pitcher. He has 61 punch-outs in 57.1 innings, good for a K/9 of 9.52. That ranks third in the American League among qualified starting pitchers.
The reason Sale isn't higher on this list is because of his workload. His season hit a slight hiccup when the White Sox used him out of the bullpen on a single occasion due to concerns over his elbow, and he's only had three starts in which he's pitched seven innings or more.
The bright side is that two of those have come in Sale's last two starts. He's getting better as the season is moving forward, and he's already tied for second among AL pitchers in WAR, according to FanGraphs. If he keeps it up, his Cy Young claim is only going to get stronger.
Last Week: No. 2
Jake Peavy was arguably the best pitcher in baseball through his first seven starts this season, but some cracks in his armor have been revealed in his last three starts.
On May 15 against the Detroit Tigers, Peavy was cruising right along before he allowed six earned runs in the sixth inning. This past Saturday against the Cleveland Indians, he allowed seven earned runs over 6.1 innings.
Lesson learned: Peavy is human after all.
Nevertheless, his claim to the Cy Young is still strong. He has a 6-1 record, and his 3.07 ERA ranked in the top 10 in the American League at the start of play on Tuesday. His 0.92 WHIP ranked second, and he's tied with Sale for second in the AL in WAR among pitchers.
Just as important, Peavy ranks in the top five in the league in innings pitched. He's been a workhorse for the White Sox, which is a dream come true seeing as how Peavy couldn't stay healthy in either of the last two seasons.
Last Week: Unranked
David Price has been on a roll ever since late April. Starting with his complete-game shutout of the Los Angeles Angels on April 24, Price has pitched at least six innings in each of his last seven starts, and he's allowed three earned runs or fewer in all but one of those.
The one game in which Price didn't allow three earned runs or fewer is one he'd like to forget, as he gave up five earned on 11 hits and three walks in seven innings against the New York Yankees back on May 10.
Even despite that subpar start, Price has a respectable 6-3 record and a 2.71 ERA, which was good for fourth in the American League at the start of Tuesday's action.
Price has allowed a few too many baserunners this season, but he's been better than most at getting out of trouble. He may have an unspectacular 1.25 WHIP, but his 82.1 LOB (left-on-base) percentage is good for third in the American League.
If Price can be this good with so many runners on base, I shudder to think how good he'll be once he starts keeping runners off the basepaths to begin with.
Last Week: No. 4
This could be the last time Jered Weaver is featured in my top five for a while.
According to the Angels' official Twitter account, Weaver has been placed on the disabled list due to back problems that flared up in his start against the Yankees on Monday night. He only managed to throw 12 pitches before he had to be removed from the game with no outs in the top of the first.
At least he's going on the DL with excellent numbers.
Weaver has a 6-1 record in 11 starts, with a 2.61 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. At the start of the day on Tuesday, he ranked third in the American League in ERA and WHIP, and sixth in innings pitched.
The other thing Weaver has on his Cy Young resume is a no-hitter, as he tossed a no-no against the Minnesota Twins way back on May 2.
So, here's hoping Weaver isn't gone for long. He's started something special, and I for one want to see him finish it.
Last Week: No. 1
Justin Verlander is currently in the middle of a start against the Boston Red Sox, so the timing of this discussion is admittedly a little awkward.
However, even if Verlander has a subpar performance against the Red Sox, he's still going to be the top Cy Young contender in the American League. He's been that good.
In 10 starts, Verlander has a record of 5-2, and he leads the league with a 2.15 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP. He also leads the AL in strikeouts with 75, and he's the only pitcher in the Junior Circuit to log three complete games.
Verlander has the top WAR of any AL pitcher at 2.7, and he has a comfortable lead over the rest of the field in that category.
Verlander was the best pitcher in the American League last season, and he's been the best pitcher in the American League so far this season. There's really no question about it.
5. Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays
He wasn't fooling the Texas Rangers in his last start.
4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
He's up near the top...for now...
3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
He's given up at least 10 hits in three of his last four starts.
2. Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
He's coming back down the earth a little.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
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