CLEVELAND -- Chris Sale has a unique, but spot-on theory when it comes to his approach against American League Central opponents.
"It's like you play your buddy in basketball and you want to win, but when you play your brother in basketball, you want to win really bad," Sale told MLB.com Saturday before his White Sox took the field at Progressive Field. "I get more amped up against those teams. It's hard not to just because you know how important those games are."
Sale became the Majors' first 11-game-winner behind a seven-inning performance against the Tigers on Wednesday. He's still among the AL leaders in WHIP (1.01), opponents' average against (.218) and ERA (2.94), with a fifth straight All-Star appearance almost a certainty.
But the veteran southpaw has noticed individual struggles within the division. It stands to reason that teams seeing a pitcher even of Sale's lofty level four or five times per season will get a better read against him than those getting one or two chances yearly against his electric stuff. With a 5.15 ERA over seven starts against the AL Central this season, Sale has been working with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper toward tweaks for improvement.
"When I have bad ones against those teams, they are usually terrible. I never really have an all right start against any of them. I'm either eight [innings] and one [run] or five and seven," Sale said. "We are trying to make those numbers less drastic and I think with some of the same things we've seen, we can accomplish that.
"Really, it's just a matter of staying within myself and just repeating my delivery every time. When we play teams in our division, we really have to have those games and I really want to win those games. Maybe that too, putting too much pressure, too much emphasis on trying to be too good sometimes. When you try too hard instead of letting it happen, sometimes you get into trouble."
Even with a 6.06 ERA over his past five starts, Sale's plan to throw more to contact this season has paid dividends overall. That description of the plan is a bit of a misnomer, in that Sale really has thrown fewer "hate pitches" or pitches in anger at full-force effort and made every pitch meaningful, controlling along the way the fire and emotion helping make him one of the game's best starters.
Those meaningful pitches eventually could make a difference in a division that features four teams within five losses of each other in the standings after Saturday's 13-2 loss to the Indians.
"There's going to be a lot of fluctuation from the top three, four teams at least," Sale said. "I don't think it's going to be one of those where if we get to September and it's like, 'OK these guys have the division. Let's play for the Wild Card.'
"Dog days are going to be lengthened a little bit. It makes it fun. That's what we are here for. We want to play meaningful games. The deeper in the season you can play meaningful games, it's obviously where you want to be."