Detroit Tigers (33-27) at Chicago White Sox (32-33)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (6-5, 4.19 ERA) vs. LHP John Danks (4-5, 4.32 ERA)
John Danks had one of his best starts of the year against the Tigers on April 21, allowing one run in 6⅓ innings. He only struck out one batter while allowing three walks. However, he was able to use Comerica Park's spacious outfield to his advantage, recording 10 fly ball outs. Things have not gone well since ... at least, on the surface. Danks has allowed a 5.07 ERA in his last eight starts, including a pair of 10-hit, eight-run outings. The implosions mask several solid outings, including three consecutive starts with a total of three runs allowed. He blanked the New York Yankees for eight innings on May 24, holding them to just three hits and no walks.
Whatever groove Danks has found seems to have carried over to his peripheral statistics as well. He has 33 strikeouts to just 10 walks in his last 39 innings with a 1.10 WHIP during that span. Home runs have still been an issue -- he has given up eight since May 1 -- but mostly on the road. He has given up a 3.03 ERA and 3.78 FIP at home this season, with just three home runs allowed in six starts. Part of this improvement could be due to a recent uptick in the use of his changeup (arguably his best pitch) against left-handed hitters. He is throwing it nearly 20 percent of the time to lefties this season, and they are hitting a putrid .059 off the change. Overall, lefties are hitting .254/.303/.380 against Danks in 2014.
It's a bit concerning that Justin Verlander's peripheral numbers are nearly identical to Danks'. However, things have been slightly better lately. Verlander has 11 strikeouts to five walks in his last two starts, and his fastball has averaged over 95 miles per hour. He was roughed up by the Toronto Blue Jays in his last outing, allowing six runs (five earned) in his last four innings of work. His pitch count was not elevated when he started to lose his command -- a phenomenon we have noted previously -- but it's possible that fatigue still plays a role. Verlander had thrown 20 pitches in the fourth inning before Dioner Navarro stepped to the plate, and allowed back-to-back singles from Navarro and Erik Kratz to cough up the Tigers' lead.
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.333/.333/.833 in six plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Gordon Beckham (.206/.200/.294 in 35 plate appearances)
The numbers don't really matter here. Jose Abreu is terrifying. He has eight hits in 28 at-bats against the Tigers this year, seven of which have gone for extra bases. He has already homered off Verlander this season as well. He is one of a few White Sox players who have had some recent success against Verlander. Dayan Viciedo is hitting .300 in 20 at-bats, Conor Gillaspie has a .929 OPS, and Tyler Flowers has a pair of home runs. Gordon Beckham is one of several long-time Sox players who have poor numbers against Verlander. Alexei Ramirez has a .585 OPS while Paul Konerko is hitting just .172, both in more than 60 plate appearances.
The Tigers are just two games clear of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central with a 33-27 record after their first 60 games. While things seem dire given the team's recent run of play, consider this. In the last four years, the Tigers' best record after 60 games was 34-26, which occurred last season. They had an identical record in 2011 and were a measly 28-32 in 2012. Meanwhile, the surging Cleveland Indians had an identical 30-30 record at this point last season. Getting out to a big division lead and coasting to a title sounds like a great idea, but it rarely happens, even with a talent disparity like we have seen in the Central over the past several years.
The Tigers finally break their losing streak against left-handed pitching.