Da Best? Sale is 9-0; Arrieta vs. SF tonight

Chicago aces among top for Cy Young candidates in respective leagues

May 20th, 2016

So far in 2016, it's Major League Baseball's kind of town, Chicago is.

And when it comes to the No. 1 starting pitchers on the two current first-place teams that call this great Midwestern metropolis home, well, come up with as many superlatives as you like. None of them will be remotely full of wind, even in the Windy City. Quite simply, it's riveting theater every fifth day on the mound, North Side or South Side, and nobody wants to miss an inning.

On Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox enjoyed another tour de force from their slender left-handed ace, Chris Sale. On Friday night, the Cubs will trot out their front-of-the-rotation thoroughbred righty, Jake Arrieta, in San Francisco against the Giants, who've won eight games in a row.

How good have these guys been? Let's start with the numbers, which are becoming historic with seemingly every pitch and don't really seem like they're going to stop any time soon.

Sale won again on Thursday night. He shut down the Astros in a 2-1 victory, he went the distance for his second consecutive complete game, he struck out nine, and he is now 9-0 this season with a 1.58 ERA, a 0.72 WHIP and 62 strikeouts against 10 walks in 68 1/3 innings.

Sale is leading the Majors in wins, he's the first pitcher since 2008 (Brandon Webb) to win each of his first nine starts, and is the first White Sox pitcher to accomplish that feat since Eddie Cicotte won his first 12 in 1919. Also on Thursday, Sale passed Doc White and tied Ted Lyons for eighth place on his team's all-time strikeouts list with 1,073.

Perhaps most important to Sale, his teammates and fans was that he put an end to a four-game losing streak. The White Sox are still flying high in the American League Central, leading the second-place Indians by 2 1/2 games, and Sale is the biggest reason why.

"I think everybody should know how we feel about him, how I feel about him," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He's special. He's a great pitcher, he's one of the best in the game. I just see him continuing to get better as the season goes along, as he goes through his career."

The Cubs and the rest of the National League are saying the same things about Arrieta, whose dominant beginning to the 2016 season is hardly a small sample size.

Sure, Arrieta brings a sparkling 2016 resume to the AT&T Park mound that includes a 7-0 record, a 1.29 ERA, a WHIP of 0.84, 55 strikeouts in 56 innings and his April 21 no-hitter against Cincinnati -- the only no-no in MLB so far this season.

And oh, his Cubs have the best record in the Majors at 28-11 and are leading the NL Central by 6 1/2 games.

But there's more. Arrieta, who won last year's NL Cy Young Award following a 22-6 campaign with a 1.77 ERA that happened to include a second-half stretch in which he gave up nine earned runs over 107 1/3 innings for an ERA of 0.75, the lowest such number after the break in Major League history.

Or how about this? Arrieta is now 23-1 with a 0.98 ERA since last June 21 and his team has won in each of his last 21 starts. Opposing batters are hitting .153 off him this year.

"It's unusual," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's very unusual what he's doing."

Indeed it is, and when you compare it with what his crosstown southpaw contemporary is doing, it's even more unusual.

Arrieta and Sale are both considered to be among the leading candidates for the NL and AL Cy Young Awards, and it's super-rare for pitchers for different teams in the same city to be so good at the same time.

In recent years, notable comparisons were in 2012, when Angels starter Jered Weaver finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting and Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw finished second in the NL, and the year before that, when Kershaw won the honor and Weaver finished second.

The last time anything close to this happened in Chicago was 2003, when White Sox righty Esteban Loaiza finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting, while Cubs phenom Mark Prior finished third in the NL.

So enjoy it while it's happening, Chicago, and enjoy it while it's happening, baseball. And also know that Arrieta and Sale are enjoying it, too, although when it comes down to pitching, they're all business.

Even after making yet another Major League lineup look silly on Thursday night, Sale displayed the attitude that makes this current run of greatness so real.

"I just try to go out and do my job every fifth day," he said. "That's all I'm trying to do."