Chicago White Sox (60-94) at Detroit Tigers (91-64)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: RHP Erik Johnson (1-2, 2.87 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (14-7, 2.51 ERA)
I'm trying to figure out how Johnson is able to walk over a batter every two innings with a WHIP of 1.66 and still only have a 2.61 ERA. You would think he were stranding baserunners left and right, but his strand rate rests at a very sustainable 66.1%. And then... I realized that Johnson has actually allowed 11 runs in those 15 2/3 innings, but six (!) have been unearned. Four of those came against the Tigers 11 days ago in a 9-1 Tigers victory.
Now that we know that both Johnson and the defense behind him have largely been horrible, it's time to point out that he was excellent in his last start, holding the Minnesota Twins scoreless through six innings. He struck out eight and walked two in 112 pitches. The high strikeout total inflated Johnson's numbers -- he only struck out five hitters in his first two big league outings -- but this may be more reflective of his actual production. He struck out 135 batters in 142 minor league innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season.
Johnson has largely been a two-pitch pitcher against right-handed hitters so far, mixing his fastball with a cut fastball over 90% of the time. The cutter is averaging 5-6 miles per hour slower than his actual fastball, so it's more of a slider in nature. He has mixed in an occasional curveball as well. Somehow, he has been able to hold righties to hitting just .143/.226/.179 so far. Meanwhile, lefties have gotten a similar mix of pitches along with a changeup 10% of the time, but has allowed them to hit .368/.444/.632 with five extra base hits in 45 plate appearances.
It's probably not going to happen, but Anibal Sanchez is making a statement about his Cy Young candidacy in September. In three starts, he's 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA and 25 strikeouts to seven walks. In the second half, he's 7-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He may get a few more votes if he reaches 15-16 wins. He will probably make a start in Miami -- either Friday or Saturday, depending on what Jim Leyland does with the rotation -- in order to stay sharp for the postseason.
The Tigers kept their chances of clinching the AL Central at home alive with last night's incredible ninth inning comeback. More importantly, it kept them one game behind the Oakland A's for home field advantage in the ALDS. Today, the Tigers need to be as patient as they were when they faced Johnson 12 days ago. He threw 29 pitches in the first inning and ended up throwing 92 in just 3 2/3 innings. He walks a ton of batters, and the Tigers should have plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position.
The Tigers clinch the division today.