Detroit Tigers (17-9) at Chicago White Sox (8-14)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: RHP Shane Greene (3-1, 4.60 ERA) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 4.78 ERA)
After a shaky start to the season, it appeared that Jeff Samardzija had gotten on track. He had allowed just one run in his last 19 innings pitched prior to his last start, including a stellar performance against the Tigers on April 17. Samardzija may have been shaken by his eerie surroundings -- this was the infamous empty stadium matchup against the Baltimore Orioles -- but he was rocked for six runs in the first inning of an 8-2 loss. Seven of the first eight batters Samardzija faced reached base, and the Orioles collected five extra base hits in just five innings.
The loss marked the first of five straight for the Sox, who have dropped into last place, seven games behind the Tigers. More concerning than the early deficit, however, may be how pedestrian Samardzija and others have looked this season. Samardzija has just six walks in 32 innings this year, but is only striking out 15.6 percent of the batters he has faced, well below his career average. He has clamped down somewhat with runners on base, but is still allowing opponents to hit .290/.329/.473 overall.
Shane Greene has drawn comparisons to Rick Porcello already this season, and Greene's ERA-FIP ratio now matches that of Porcello's infamous discrepancy after a pair of rocky starts. Greene has given up 15 runs on 18 hits in his last 8 1/3 innings, a sharp drop-off from his outstanding three-start stretch to open the year. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to Greene's struggles, other than a lot of hard contact on pitches that previously went unpunished. The Minnesota Twins whiffed on 13 of the 85 pitches he threw during their first matchup in early April, but just seven of 85 pitches last Thursday. This isn't a perfect estimate -- the White Sox whiffed just six times when Greene held them to one run in 7 1/3 innings on April 19 -- but it's clear that Greene's stuff hasn't been as sharp lately.
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.333/.333/1.167 in 6 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Avisail Garcia .000/.167/.000 in 6 plate appearances)
Neither Greene nor Samardzija has seen much of their respective opponent, but the best hitters in either dugout have already separated themselves in limited plate appearances. Jose Abreu has tripled and homered off Greene in six at-bats, while Melky Cabrera has three hits of his own. For the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera is 2 for 4 off Samardzija and Yoenis Cespedes has a home run. Anthony Gose also collected a pair of hits in their meeting earlier this season.
It's still early, but the Tigers could be facing a very desperate White Sox team this week. Already seven games behind the Tigers, the White Sox have seen their already-slim playoff odds plummet in just one month. The holes on their roster have been exposed -- the defense, in particular, has been awful -- and manager Robin Ventura's seat is already white-hot. A series win for the Tigers won't be a dagger in Chicago's season, but there's a good chance it could spell the end of Ventura's tenure. For the Tigers, this series is about getting Greene and Alfredo Simon back on track. Neither starter should be expected to lead the staff, but the Tigers need much better production than they received last week.
The Tigers win their third in a row behind a bounce-back outing from Greene.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 one-day fantasy baseball league today. It's $3 to join and first place wins $8,000. Enter now!