Detroit Tigers (73-87) at Chicago White Sox (76-85)
Time/Place: 3:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.09 ERA) vs. RHP Frankie Montas (0-1, 5.73 ERA)
Flamethrowing rookie Frankie Montas didn't fare too well in his first career start, allowing six runs on six hits in three innings against the Tigers. While he has struggled with his control at times in the minor leagues, Montas was sharp against Detroit, only walking two batters. His fastball command was lacking, though. Montas threw just seven of 17 first-pitch strikes, resulting in a lot of hitter-friendly counts. The 22-year-old righthander hasn't appeared in a game since then, but his 123 innings pitched this season are a solid jump from last year's total.
The last time I previewed Montas, I noted that many pundits don't see the young righthander sticking in Chicago's rotation long term. The jury is still out on that -- he looked passable to my untrained eye in his first start, despite the final line -- but Montas did not throw one changeup in his start against the Tigers. His fastball is an electric pitch, but he hung a few sliders, which eventually got him into trouble. Jim Margalus of South Side Sox noted that Montas got a bit unlucky, with several factors working against him.
Of the six hits Montas allowed, one of them was a blooped single to shallow left. Another one was an infield single that a sliding Alexei Ramirez couldn't corral (a non-declining Ramirez might not have had to leave his feet). Another one was a jam-shot pop-up that fell behind the usual second baseman's position, which happened to be vacated because it was a hit-and-run. And the other was a line-drive single that went in and out of Mike Olt's glove. That's an unusual amount of misfortune crammed into three innings, so it was heartening to see Montas stay aggressive (only one unintentional walk) and let the chips fall where they may.
A lot was made of Daniel Norris' last start, when he was allowed to throw 54 pitches in a wild first inning that showcased the very worst of the Tigers' defense. Norris came back out to make 17 more pitches in the second inning before departing. Lost amid the outrage over Brad Ausmus' decision was a generally subpar outing for Norris, who was extremely sharp in his two previous starts. His defense did him no favors, but Norris gave up five hits and did not strike out a batter. He did not throw a single changeup, and only generated two whiffs in 71 total pitches thrown.
Luckily, the stage is set for Norris to close out his season on a high note. Norris threw five perfect innings against the White Sox on September 22, an outing that included six whiffs in 63 pitches. The Sox are batting just .231/.285/.340 against left-handed starters this season, and with a top-10 pick still hanging in the balance -- Detroit clinched a protected pick with last night's loss -- we may see another depleted lineup from Sox manager Robin Ventura.
Key matchup: This game vs. mass chaos elsewhere
Even without the excitement of a playoff race attached to this game, the pitching matchup is still intriguing enough to watch. Norris and Montas have the potential to lock horns several times over in the next few seasons, and today could be a nice little teaser of some of the fireworks we will see in 2016.
However, the excitement of an intriguing pitching matchup pales in comparison to the remaining playoff races elsewhere. All 15 MLB games are starting at the same time today, and the AL wild card race has yet to be decided. The Texas Rangers are a win away from an AL West title, while the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels are fighting for their playoff lives. If you're a fan of chaos, root for the Angels; an L.A. win guarantees a tiebreaker game somewhere on Monday.
Norris rebounds and the Tigers take the series finale.