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Leader Watch: AL aces locked in tight race

Sale has edge over Kluber as both seek first ERA crown
MLB.com

It's only fitting that Chris Sale and Corey Kluber pitch on the same day. They've been the two most dominant pitchers in the American League this season, and they're locked in a battle for the AL ERA crown. Sunday was the latest stage of the race -- and Sale took this one.

Kluber took the mound Sunday afternoon and threw seven innings of three-run, nine-strikeout ball to beat the Rays, a strong performance that left the Indians ace's ERA at 2.71. But right now, that's only good for second place.

It's only fitting that Chris Sale and Corey Kluber pitch on the same day. They've been the two most dominant pitchers in the American League this season, and they're locked in a battle for the AL ERA crown. Sunday was the latest stage of the race -- and Sale took this one.

Kluber took the mound Sunday afternoon and threw seven innings of three-run, nine-strikeout ball to beat the Rays, a strong performance that left the Indians ace's ERA at 2.71. But right now, that's only good for second place.

That's because Sale topped him Sunday night. Facing the rival Yankees, the Red Sox's electric left-hander turned in a dazzling effort at Yankee Stadium. Sale allowed just a run in seven innings, with 12 strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 2.51, the best mark in the AL.

With about a month-and-a-half left in the regular season, every start for Sale and Kluber has the potential to swing the pendulum one way or the other. There's still plenty of time for either ace to seize control.

For all their dominance in the AL over the years, neither Sale nor Kluber has ever won an ERA title. In Kluber's Cy Young season in 2014, when he had a career-low 2.44 ERA, Felix Hernandez led the AL at 2.14. Sale's career-best ERA in a full season was that same year, 2.17. He finished second to King Felix.

This year is a prime opportunity for one of them to change that. It's far from a two-man race, but Sale and Kluber are leading the pack and have the track record of brilliance to suggest that they can sustain their pace.

Sunday's outings were just more of the same. Sale boosted his strikeouts-per-nine-innings to 12.89; Kluber's K/9 ratio is at 12.39. They rank 1-2 in the AL in that category as well.

The same goes for WHIP. Sale and Kluber each allowed just four hits and two walks on Sunday, giving them a WHIP of 0.88 and 0.91, respectively. They're the only two qualified starters in the AL with sub-1 WHIP marks.

The best in the game are playing like it, and with Sale and Kluber both pitching for division leaders -- the Red Sox and Indians could be on a collision course for a postseason rematch -- it should make for one exciting stretch run.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Corey Kluber, Chris Sale