If Chicago White Six pitcher Chris Sale can replicate the first half of the 2012 season, he could win himself a Cy Young award. The young left-hander is among the elite pitchers in the American League, but can Sale keep it up in the midst of a division race?
Sale enters the second half with a 10-2 record and a 2.19 ERA. He starts Sunday afternoon in Kansas City having won his last seven decisions.
Since re-entering the White Sox's rotation May 12 after a brief stint in the bullpen, Sale has posted a 1.94 ERA. He pitched a scoreless inning in Kaufman Stadium on Tuesday in the All-Star Game. It's time to see if Sale will pick up where he left off July 3 when he beat the Texas Rangers.
Sale is relying less on his breaking pitches and is changing speeds more effectively. That's a good thing because as July gives way to August fatigue is a concern for the young pitcher.
Let's remember that every inning Sale tosses is uncharted territory for the 23-year-old. In a relief role last season he threw just over 71 innings. That workload looks to at least double now that he is starting games.
Going into Sunday's action, Sale has logged over 102 innings. Despite his desire to reach the 200-inning plateau, it would probably be best if he came up a bit short of that total.
This seems to be the White Sox's plan, and they have taken steps to prevent a dead arm situation late in the season. Sale was scratched from a possible start on July 8 on the pretense of allowing him to pitch in the All-Star Game. It also cut another six or seven innings from Sale's end-of-the-year tally.
How many games will Chris Sale win in 2012?
Chicago skipper Robin Ventura's plan seems to be a six-man rotation next week. Dylan Axelrod and Philip Humber could pitch next Tuesday and Wednesday in Boston to provide Sale that extra day of rest.
The fact that Axelrod threw two innings in Friday's extra-inning win could put a snag in that plan. However, it shows that management is serious about monitoring Sale's work rate.
Sale's velocity has been down from when he was called on for an inning or two last season. That doesn't seem to have cut down his effectiveness.
It comes down to how Sale's arm responds to what will be his highest innings total in his three seasons in the big leagues. How teams respond, having seen Sale in action the first three months, will also figure into the equation.
Sale will have to throw well and get his share of run support to reach 20 wins. Sunday is the first step in determining if he will continue to master opponents in the second half.