Detroit Tigers (33-28) at Chicago White Sox (33-33)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (7-2, 3.38 ERA) vs. LHP Chris Sale (5-0, 2.06 ERA)
Last season, Chris Sale was a very good pitcher. His 11-14 record beiled his 3.07 ERA and 3.17 FIP. He struck out over a batter per inning and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio just shy of 5.0. He made the AL All-Star team and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. It was an impressive follow-up to a breakout season in 2012. This season, Chris Sale is hell bent on world domination. He is leaving nothing but scorched earth and crushed dreams in his wake. In a year filled with Tommy John surgeries at record frequency, Sale shook off an elbow injury like Justin Verlander shook off his manager during the sixth inning of last night's game (/too soon?).
Sale is 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA and 2.18 FIP in eight starts this season. His WHIP is a minuscule 0.67 and has increased his strikeout-to-walk ratio to an Adam Wainwright-esque 6.4. He is allowing an impossibly low .414 OPS to all hitters, and a .165 OPS to lefties. He is basically turning every hitter he faces into Danny Worth. There are some unsustainable trends — even with a 17 percent line drive rate, his .193 BABIP probably won't last — but if he does regress, it won't be far.
One of the interesting trends we have seen from Sale this year is that he is relying on his devastating slider less often than ever. After throwing it almost 30 percent of the time in 2013, he is using it less than 18 percent of the time this year. Instead, he is throwing the changeup more than ever. Hitters still can't touch the slider — they're hitting .071 off it in 2014 — but the .139 average against the changeup shows that it too is dominant.
Max Scherzer has been better in his last couple starts, but his recent performance is reminiscent of the Scherzer we saw in 2010 and 2011. Take his last start against the Boston Red Sox, for instance. Scherzer was dominant early, allowing a run and two hits in the first four innings. In his final two-plus innings, he gave up three runs on nine hits, including another one-batter-too-late RBI double (by David Ortiz, no less). One would think that Scherzer would be able to better navigate the middle innings given his deeper arsenal, but his fastball is the problem. Opposing batters are making contact more often, resulting in a .303 batting average and .523 slugging average off the fastball this year.
Hitter to fear: Dayan Viciedo (.360/.385/.800 in 26 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alexei Ramirez (.106/.189/.128 in 54 plate appearances)
Dayan Viciedo and Conor Gillaspie have had their way with Scherzer in their respective careers, though Viciedo's track record is a bit longer. Both are hitting above .300 with an OPS above 1.100. Viciedo has nine hits — including three doubles and a pair of homers — in 25 at-bats. On the other end of the spectrum, Alexei Ramirez has been a special blend of helpless at the plate against Scherzer. He has just five hits in 47 at-bats with six strikeouts sprinkled in. Others have been stymied as well, including Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko. Even Jose Abreu has been ineffective in his short career, with a double in six at-bats.
This game will not be fun.
The Tigers get a hit. Or two.