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Tigers welcome struggling White Sox to Comerica Park for 4-game series

The Tigers will get their first look at rookie sensation Carlos Rodon as they kick off a weekend series against the White Sox.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Chicago White Sox ranked eighth in the American League with 660 runs scored. Their .310 on-base percentage was the fourth-lowest total in the league, but they hit 155 home runs, tied for fourth-highest in the league. They ranked fifth in the AL in both slugging percentage and isolated power (ISO), but their 96 wRC+ was tied with the Houston Astros for ninth in the league. All numbers considered, they were roughly a league average offense.

The White Sox lost a couple of aging sluggers in Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, but added a few pieces that were supposed to bolster the offense. Melky Cabrera was an ideal table-setter in front of Jose Abreu, while Adam LaRoche was supposed to replace some of the lost thump behind the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year. Add in a healthy Avisail Garcia, and the White Sox had one of the better projected lineups in the league (if a bit top-heavy).

Instead, Chicago ranks dead last in the AL with 241 runs scored. They have the second-lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the league, and their .348 slugging percentage is by far the worst in baseball. They have hit the fewest number of home runs in the American League despite playing their home games in one of the most homer-friendly ballparks in baseball.

The absymal offense is not the only thing going wrong for the last-place White Sox, but it's the biggest thing. Their pitching staff has one of the highest ERAs in the league at 4.15, but their FIP is among the league's best and they are second in the AL with 8.2 WAR. Chris Sale is still Chris Sale, and rookie Carlos Rodon has been an effective starter. However, their defense has been the worst unit in baseball in terms of defensive efficiency. Balls put into play are not being turned into outs, leading to a league-worst -80 run differential.

SB Nation blog: South Side Sox

Game One: Thursday, 1:08 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit

Pitching Matchup: LHP Carlos Rodon (3-1, 3.75 ERA) vs. RHP Alfredo Simon (7-4, 3.29 ERA)

Rodon 8 50.1 8.58 5.01 0.18 1.59 3.19 4.30 1.0
Simon 13 79.1 6.58 3.06 0.79 1.26 3.85 4.37 1.0

Carlos Rodon was selected by the White Sox with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Viewed by many as the top talent in the draft -- he was long rumored as a consensus No. 1 overall pick before a subpar season at North Carolina State -- Rodon made quick work of Chicago's farm system. In nine appearances after being drafted last year, he put up a 2.96 ERA with 38 strikeouts in just 24 1/3 innings. After a stellar spring, he was sent back to Triple-A Charlotte, where he made two starts before being called up to the major leagues.

Since his arrival in the majors, Rodon has been one of the most consistent performers in Chicago's rotation. He has made eight starts, and has held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in sixth of them. He threw six shutout innings against the Astros earlier this month, and struck out 10 in a start against the Texas Rangers as well. He still has plenty of development ahead of him, as evident by his 12.5 percent walk rate, the second-highest for any pitcher in baseball (minimum 50 innings) this season. As he improves his fastball command and changeup, the walk rate should drop while his strikeout rate stays high.

Game Two: Friday, 7:08 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit

Pitching Matchup: LHP Jose Quintana (3-7, 3.92 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (6-7, 4.59 ERA)

Quintana 14 87.1 7.52 2.68 0.82 1.35 3.69 3.88 1.3
Sanchez 15 98.0 8.08 2.48 1.38 1.18 4.16 3.72 1.0

Jose Quintana has already faced the Tigers three times in 2015, and his numbers have gotten better with every start. After getting rocked for nine runs on 10 hits in their first meeting, Quintana has held the Tigers to five runs in his last 12 innings. He struck out eight in a loss back on May 7, and has 14 strikeouts to five walks against Tigers batters this season. Overall, current Tigers are batting .339/.377/.532 against him.

Quintana has not been quite as sharp this season as he was in 2014, but he is still pitching better than his 3.92 ERA indicates. For one, if you remove his first start against the Tigers, Quintana's ERA drops to 3.13. Quintana is also striking out a healthy 19.6 percent of batters with a solid 2.81 strikeout-to-walk ratio, nearly identical to his career rate. Right-handed batters are having more success against him this season, hitting .304 with a .358 on-base percentage. Lefties have struggled, hitting just .177/.250/.316 with two home runs.

Game Three: Saturday, 4:08 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit

Pitching Matchup: LHP John Danks (3-8, 5.38 ERA) vs. LHP Kyle Ryan (1-1, 4.56 ERA)

Danks 14 80.1 6.16 2.46 1.57 1.48 4.90 4.50 0.3
Ryan 3 23.2 4.18 3.04 1.52 1.35 5.39 4.96 -0.2

It's hard to believe, but we are now five years removed from the last time John Danks had an ERA under 4.00 for an entire season. The 30-year-old lefthander had a brief peak as a solid mid-rotation starter, accumulating 11.2 WAR from 2008 to 2010. Danks still put up a 2.8-win season in 2011, but his 4.33 ERA lagged behind. Since his shoulder surgery in 2012, Danks has a 4.87 ERA and a 4.89 FIP in 412 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate has dipped from 18.6 percent in his peak to just 15.2 percent over the past few seasons, and he is on pace to give up 25 home runs for the third consecutive year. To cap off the misery, the White Sox still owe him another $15.75 million in 2016.

There have been some improvements in Danks' game from 2014 to 2015, namely the walk rate. Danks has issued a free pass to just 6.2 percent of batters this season, down from 8.7 percent last year. His ground ball rate has dipped, but he is inducing more pop-ups than in 2014. He has been victimized by a .316 BABIP, which is 26 points higher than his career average. His fly ball rate is its highest since his rookie season, resulting in an equally high home run rate. Both xFIP and SIERA suggest that some positive regression is in order, as they are nearly a full run lower than his ERA.

Game Four: Sunday, 1:08 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit

Pitching Matchup: RHP Jeff Samardzija (5-4, 4.53 ERA) vs. LHP David Price (7-2, 2.42 ERA)

Samardzija 15 101.1 7.46 1.51 1.07 1.33 3.67 3.68 1.6
Price 15 104.0 8.22 1.82 0.61 1.13 2.82 3.47 2.8

Based on wins and ERA alone, Samardzija has been a disappointment for the White Sox. His 4.53 ERA is the highest of his career as a starter, and, prior to his last start, had not won a game in over a month. However, his propensity for blow-up outings has inflated his ERA. He has held opponents to three runs or fewer in nine of his 15 starts -- with no-decisions in four of those outings -- and has a 3.00 ERA in his last three starts. The Tigers got to Samardzija in their last meeting, scoring six runs on 10 hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Samardzija's peripheral numbers are much better, as both his FIP and xFIP suggest that he should be an above average pitcher. However, his strikeout rate has dipped to just 19.4 percent, by far the lowest rate of his career. He has a career-high 4.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio thanks to a 3.9 percent walk rate (also a career-best), but is getting punished by a .338 BABIP. His ground ball rate is below 40 percent this season after averaging close to 50 percent over the past two years, and he is allowing more line drives and fly balls.

Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.295/.345/.492 in 284 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Melky Cabrera (.247/.287/.290 in 301 plate appearances)

Last season, Jose Abreu put the American League on notice with a monster season, batting .317/.383/.581 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI. He hit 29 of his home runs before the All-Star break, and hit .350 with a .435 on-base percentage in the second half. The White Sox have gotten more of the second half version of Abreu in 2015, but with some BABIP regression. Either way, Abreu has gotten almost no help offensively. Adam LaRoche is the only other White Sox hitter with an OPS+ above league average, though Avisail Garcia has chipped in with seven home runs. Melky Cabrera has been noticeably absent, with an abysmal 66 OPS+. His home run off Joba Chamberlain on May 6 is his lone round-tripper of the season, and one of 10 extra base hits.


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