One thing you hear announcers say too often is, "He's the No. 1 guy, which means he has to match up against the other team's No. 1 guy."
This, of course, isn't actually true. Once you get past the first week of the season, the rotations get jumbled and a starter isn't any more likely to face a No. 1 than a No. 4. Take Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. The previous season, he started three times against Cleveland and faced Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson and T.J. House but not Corey Kluber. Sale has started four times in his career against the Mariners but never against Felix Hernandez. He has never squared off against David Price.
So when we do get a battle of aces, like we did Monday in Chicago with Sale and Kluber, it should be savored, especially when the pitchers reward us with a great duel. Coming off his 18-strikeout performance last week, Kluber was nearly as dominant, allowing just one run in nine innings while striking out 12. Kluber's 30 strikeouts over consecutive starts didn't match Kerry Wood's 33 in 1998 (20 and then 13) but put an exclamation point that he's back in his Cy Young groove.
Alas, the Indians are now 1-8 in his starts. With a little luck, Kluber would have spun a shutout. Holding a 1-0 lead in the sixth, Adam Eaton hit a chopper over the first-base bag that went for a triple. It wasn't hit hard, but it found an empty space on the diamond. Eaton than hustled home on a wild pitch, scoring when Indians catcher Roberto Perez dropped the ball on the tag. Kluber had only thrown 108 pitches, 80 for strikes, so he could have come out of the 10th inning, but nobody pulls a Gaylord Perry these days -- Perry pitched 10-plus innings in eight starts for the Indians back in 1972, and only four pitchers have done it since 2005 -- so Kluber was out, and Zach McAllister immediately coughed it up.
For the White Sox, the 2-1 win was their sixth victory in a row, and they climbed a game over .500. It was Sale's second strong outing in a row after some early struggles. The White Sox have to be pretty happy to be 18-17, considering Sale has a 4.36 ERA, Jeff Samardzija has a 4.58 ERA, and the offense is 13th in the AL in runs per game.
With Sale signed through 2019 and Kluber potentially through 2021, this will hopefully be the first of many duels between the duo. What's the best duel in each division? These would be my choices for the other five divisions:
NL West: The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw versus San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner. The bad: The two didn't face each other last year and met just once each in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The good news: The two have already faced off twice this season (the Giants won both games, 3-2 and 2-1) and will meet for a third time Thursday.
NL Central: There's no obvious best duel here, with St. Louis' Adam Wainwright on the disabled list and the Cubs' Jon Lester off to a bit of an inconsistent start. The matchup I'd pay to see right now: Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole versus Johnny Cueto ... at least before Cueto leaves the Reds.
AL West: Seattle's Felix Hernandez versus Texas' Yu Darvish would have topped the list until Darvish got hurt. With apologies to Garrett Richards and Dallas Keuchel, I'll go with the King versus Sonny Gray, who has developed into a No. 1 for the A's. Felix has started twice against the A's in 2015 but didn't draw Gray either time.
AL East: Umm, where have all the other starters gone? Right now, you'd have to go with the Yankees' Michael Pineda versus Tampa Bay's Chris Archer, two guys who appear to be making the leap this season.
What do you think? Which battles are must-see viewing for you?