Game 17 Preview: White Sox at Tigers

David Banks

The pitching matchup that everyone wanted has been postponed. Instead, Charlie Leesman will start for the White Sox.

Chicago White Sox (10-10) at Detroit Tigers (9-7)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: South Side Sox

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Charlie Leesman (0-2, 1.59 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (2-1, 2.08 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Leesman (AAA) 3 17.0 5.82 3.18 1.06 1.24 4.66 - -
Verlander 4 26.0 6.92 3.46 0.00 1.35 2.69 4.41 0.8

Charlie Leesman had a brief stint in the big leagues last season, starting a game in August and spending most of September in the bullpen. His start went fairly well, as he held the Minnesota Twins to a run on four hits while striking out eight. He did walk five batters, however. Walks have been Leesman's nemesis throughout his minor league career as well. He has issues 99 base on balls in just 240 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level, and this rate is lower than those at lower levels. A former 11th round pick, Leesman progressed quickly through the minors until he hit Double-A in 2010.

Leesman also made seven appearances out of the bullpen last September, six of which went fairly well. His ERA was eviscerated by a brutal outing against the Cleveland Indians in which he allowed seven runs while failing to record an out. Tonight will not be his debut against the Tigers, as he held them scoreless for a pair of innings in a 9-1 Detroit victory.

A 15-inning sample isn't exactly the best way to determine what to expect from Leesman, but one thing is for sure: he doesn't have Chris Sale's arsenal. Leesman's fastball sat at 90-91 miles per hour last season, topping out at 93.5 mph. He relied heavily on his curveball, using it almost exclusively when he got ahead in the count. We're talking a 55% usage rate with two strikes here, which probably tells you exactly how small of a sample we're analyzing. He also throws a changeup, which opposing batters hit .750 against (in four plate appearances).

On the other end of the hype spectrum, Justin Verlander is coming off another inefficient start against the Cleveland Indians. This has become par for the course for him, as he...

/check stats

...okay, so maybe he had pitched at least seven innings in six of his last eight starts against the Tribe. Anyway, Verlander was not as sharp as we have seen previously, walking four Indians in five innings. Command should not be as big of an issue tonight, though. Verlander only walked three White Sox hitters in 13 innings last season, and the White Sox had the lowest walk rate in the American League. They have improved thus far in 2014, but a decline should be in order once they stop being the most explosive offense in the league.

Hitter to fear: Tyler Flowers (.300/.417/.900 in 12 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Paul Konerko (.172/.250/.310 in 64 plate appearances)

There aren't many current White Sox hitters that have had a lot of success against Verlander, though he has allowed multiple home runs to Flowers, Konerko, Adam Dunn, and Alejandro De Aza. Dunn leads the way with three career dingers off Verlander, but also has 11 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances. Hot-hitting Alexei Ramirez has also struggled against the Tigers' ace, hitting just .241/.267/.310 in 60 plate appearances. For all their struggles, however, the Sox scored 12 runs (eight earned) in two Verlander starts last season.

Outlook

The Tigers offense caught a big break tonight. Instead of facing the best left-handed pitcher in the American League, they get a replacement-level pitcher with one big league start under his belt. That said, the fanbase will lose its marbles if the offense doesn't put up a few early runs. Last outing aside, Verlander seems like he has returned to form in 2014, and he still has yet to allow more than three runs in a start. If he can ward off the first-inning woes, the offense should take care of business against Leesman.

Prediction

Verlander goes seven strong innings and the Tigers even the series.

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