Detroit Tigers (17-10) at Chicago White Sox (9-14)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (4-1, 3.13 ERA) vs. LHP Chris Sale (2-1, 5.32 ERA)
Chris Sale hasn't looked like himself so far this season. After lasting seven innings in over half of his starts in 2014, Sale has reached that mark just once this season. He has two starts with fewer than five strikeouts already this year, matching last season's total. Even his ERA is unsightly, though that is due to a disastrous outing against the Minnesota Twins his last time out. Sale allowed a career-high nine runs on nine hits as the White Sox suffered a 12-2 loss.
There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Sale mechanically, though. He is throwing his fastball harder than he did in 2014, and has been throwing a slightly higher percentage of first-pitch strikes. His swinging strike rate is down slightly from last season, but at 11.6 percent is still just above his career average. His slider isn't breaking quite as sharply as it has in the past, but it's too early to read into whether this is impacting its effectiveness.
Despite these "problems," Sale had little trouble handling the Tigers in their first meeting this season. The lanky lefthander gave up two runs on four hits in six innings, striking out six. Tigers hitters whiffed on 14 of Sale's 101 pitches, and were unable to sustain any sort of rally after the White Sox took an 11-1 in the fourth inning.
Alfredo Simon jumped out to a 4-0 record with some stellar work in April, but he soured at the end of the month, allowing six runs on nine hits in an 8-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals. That outing was a healthy dose of BABIP regression for Simon, who had a .256 BABIP heading into the game. Simon's .234 BABIP in the first half of 2014 was a hot topic after the Tigers acquired him last winter, but his first four starts of 2015 had many fans wondering if he could actually repeat his first half from last year.
Tigers hitter to fear: Victor Martinez (.469/.514/.844 in 35 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Miguel Cabrera (.219/.359/.406 in 39 plate appearances)
The Tigers have handled Sale slightly better than most teams throughout his career, though their .218 team batting average and .671 OPS leaves a lot to be desired. Sale is 6-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 22 outings (12 starts) with a 4.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The current Tigers roster has fared much better, however, hitting .287/.356/.468 in 191 plate appearances. Victor Martinez leads the way with a 1.358 OPS, but Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, and J.D. Martinez all have an OPS of .840 or better in at least 15 at-bats.
After watching Shane Greene unravel in his last three starts, it's fair to wonder whether the same may be in store for Simon. The big righthander had looked solid, but not overly dominant in his first four starts of the year, and his last outing was an obvious cause for concern. Can Simon get back on track tonight? He faces a tall order with Sale pitching opposite him. If the Tigers can get a solid offensive showing from a lineup that has handled Sale fairly well in limited action, they may be able to steal a win. I wouldn't count on it, though.
Sale bounces back and the White Sox win their second straight game.
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