Pair of baseball aces a real Chicago rarity

  • Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija has yet to win a game this season, but he leads the National League in ERA.

    Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija has yet to win a game this season, but he leads the National League in ERA. Associated Press

  • Although he needs a few more innings to qualify, White Sox starter Chris Sale is a contender for the lowest ERA in the American League.

    Although he needs a few more innings to qualify, White Sox starter Chris Sale is a contender for the lowest ERA in the American League. Associated Press

Updated 5/25/2014 4:02 PM

These are historically great times for Chicago baseball.

OO, apologies on the intentional mislead. But it's true in one respect.


Both the Cubs and White Sox arguably have their league's best starting pitcher.

The leader in ERA among starters in the National League is Jeff Samardzija.

The leader in ERA among starters in the American League is Chris Sale (technically, he's a few innings shy of official qualification).

The last time two Chicagoans finished a season as ERA leaders was 1910; Ed Walsh for the Sox and King Cole for the Cubs. No relation to Nat, sadly.

There haven't even many years in which this was even a possibility.

The Sox have not had an ERA leader since Joe Horlen in 1967. Jack McDowell won a Cy Young in 1994 but wasn't close to Steve Ontiveros' 2.65. LaMarr Hoyt's ERA in 1983 was more than a run worse than Rick Honeycutt's 2.42.

The Cubs haven't had an ERA leader since Ray Prim in 1945. Greg Maddux's Cy Young season in 1992 featured a 2.18 mark, but it was one tenth behind Billy Swift's 2.08. Rick Sutcliffe went for a 2.69 in '84, but Alejandro Pena finished at 2.48. Fergie Jenkins had to deal with Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax. Good luck.

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The odds are against it looking this way in October. Oakland's Sonny Gray, Toronto's Mark Buehrle (yeah, that guy) and Texas' Yu Darvish will chase Sale. The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright, Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto and the Dodgers' Zach Greinke lurk behind Samardzija.

And Samardzija may very well end the season somewhere else.

But both he and Sale have been dominant, appointment viewing.

Thursday night was one of those games I realized I just had to get to, and personal proximity makes the Cell a spur-of-the-moment possibility. Go see a freshly rehabbed Sale and a soon-to-be-departing Derek Jeter on a beautiful night, Spiegel.

I stood in my kitchen at 6:30 p.m. and realized I'd slap myself if I didn't.

Watching Sale drop his ERA to 1.89 in person, from a good pitching angle, reminded me of the horror it must be to face him.

His delivery looks like a bag of hammers launched by a slow-motion slingshot. The lead leg, his skinny hips, the lead arm and the back of his pitching hand all unfold toward you before the ball comes. Picking up the release point is a challenge in itself, let alone distinguishing between fastball, slider and change-up.


Plus, it's clear he's learned how to pitch and keep batters guessing.

A Yankees lineup full of high-priced veterans was helpless against that controlled chaos. Jeter's strikeout in the fourth inning was my favorite of Sale's 10.

Meanwhile, Samardzija could be the first winless starting pitcher to make an All-Star Game.

His 1.46 ERA is an obvious signifier to disregard his record, as is the flawed pitcher's win. There's been some excellent creative thinking and writing recently on fixing that stat. Len Kasper gave options in the Daily Herald last week, and Joe Posnanski referenced a fun Tom Tango creation on

Samardzija has gotten the second-worst run support in the NL, and the Cubs are really good at inventing new ways to lose games in which he starts. Have we tried a Darwin Barney error on a double-play ball in the ninth yet? Cross that one off the list, and it helped drop the Cubs' record to 1-9 in Samardzija's starts.

Evaluators all over the league know how good he's been, and his trade value has soared.

In two seasons, as the Cubs will be hitting the theoretical start to their window for "sustained excellence," it would be perfect to have this Samardzija.

But the timing just isn't a match with a 2015 free-agent-to-be, so dealing him is probably inevitable. It's a shame.

The White Sox have been understandably cautious with Sale, and predicting pitcher health is folly.

But for now, aces are dealing on both sides of town like it's 1910.

If only President Howard Taft could have been here for the crosstown series.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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