Chicago White Sox (72-85) at Detroit Tigers (87-70)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: LHP Chris Sale (12-4, 2.20 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (14-12, 4.68 ERA)
Fun fact: Chris Sale would need to throw 17 scoreless innings today to become the first American League starter since Pedro Martinez in 2000 with an ERA below 2.00. While this is quite unlikely to happen, Sale has been one of the most dominant starters in the AL this year. He has 13 outings this season with either zero or one run allowed, including a four start stretch in July where he allowed just three runs in 31 2/3 innings. His 5.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks fourth in the AL, and he leads the league in strikeout rate, fanning 30 percent of the batters he has faced. He also ranks among the league's top three pitchers in WHIP, FIP, SIERA, and batting average allowed.
If there is a silver lining among the numbers above, it is that the Tigers have had a sliver of success against Sale in the past. They scored three runs off of him in the first inning of their meeting on August 30th, only to see Max Scherzer cough up the lead later on when Sale settled in. The Tigers also tagged him for seven runs on 17 hits in back-to-back outings in July of 2013, though Sale struck out 19 combined hitters in the two games. Of course, having to go back that far underscores the main point: Chris Sale is really good and runs are going to be at a premium today.
Thankfully, five days ago we saw a Justin Verlander that might be up to the challenge. Verlander had his best start of the season in a crucial game, holding the Kansas City Royals to a run on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. He only struck out four batters, but didn't walk anyone. Johnny Giavotella's double to lead off the eighth inning was the only hard-hit ball that Verlander allowed, as many of the other hits -- back-to-back bouncers by Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer come to mind -- were bloops or grounders just out of the defense's reach. Not a lot of that mattered thanks to the offense putting up 10 runs in the first five innings of the game, but the dominant performance from Verlander was surely a sight for sore eyes.
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.583/.615/1.167 in 13 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Paul Konerko (.172/.250/.310 in 64 plate appearances)
Jose Abreu torched Verlander in their first three meetings this year, collective seven hits (including a pair of home runs) in 12 at-bats. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. Verlander's overall numbers against the Sox in 2014 aren't pretty, but he twirled a pair of decent outings against Chicago in April, allowing a combined five runs in 14 innings with 11 strikeouts. This was back when his ERA was under 3.00. A lot has changed. The Sox cruised against him in June, scoring seven runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. That start pushed Verlander's ERA up to 4.61. It has not been below 4.50 since.
Last year, this game would have been must-see TV with a pair of aces going toe-to-toe. Verlander's slow 2014 season has taken some of the luster off of the pitching matchup, but the circumstances still make this a huge game for the Tigers. They can clinch a playoff spot today with a win and a Seattle Mariners loss, but still have a few more days before they can begin thinking about clinching the AL Central over the suddenly-hot Royals. Keeping that one game lead by the end of the day -- no matter how -- should be considered a major victory.
Verlander puts together another solid outing and the Tigers take the series.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting daily $18,000 Fantasy Baseball leagues. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Click here for details.