Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: RHP Erik Johnson (2-0, 3.71 ERA) vs. LHP Randy Wolf (0-3, 6.48 ERA)
After a stellar 2013 season in which Erik Johnson blazed through the upper levels of Chicago's farm system, the 25-year-old righthander laid an egg in 2014. He allowed a 6.74 ERA and 5.19 FIP in 105 2/3 innings at Triple-A Charlotte, and wasn't much better (6.46 ERA, 4.32 FIP) in five starts for the White Sox. This season, Johnson rebounded, holding opponents to a 2.37 ERA and 2.57 FIP in 132 2/3 innings in Triple-A. The low ERA has translated to the major league level through three starts, but it is largely due to a .217 BABIP. Through 17 innings, Johnson has a 1.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
A three-run difference in ERA and FIP isn't sustainable, but Johnson is probably underperforming his peripherals as well. He posted a 25.4 percent strikeout rate and 7.7 percent walk rate in Triple-A this season. These numbers will naturally decline somewhat as he jumps to the major leagues, but not as much as they have in 2015. Johnson has struck out just 17 percent and walked 11.3 percent of the batters he has faced in his limited big league sample. Between this anomaly and an elevated home run rate, we may not see as big of a jump in ERA as advanced metrics might suggest.
That's more than we can say for Randy Wolf, who survived a 50-pitch first inning in his last start, holding the Indians to just two runs. This would be all the Tribe could muster in a 9-2 Tigers victory. Wolf didn't get the win after pitching just three innings, but his last two frames were a major improvement.
Hitter to fear: Geovany Soto (.333/.375/.667 in 32 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Gordon Beckham (.200/.200/.400 in 5 plate appearances)
Randy Wolf has been roughed up by the White Sox in his career, but like many of his head-to-head matchups, those starts came a long time ago. He has seen a few of Chicago's hitters plenty of times over the years, including long-time Cubs catcher Geovany Soto and National League stalwart Adam LaRoche. Unfortunately, both are hitting over .300 against Wolf, as is outfielder Melky Cabrera. Even reliever Zach Duke is batting .273 (3-for-11) off of the 39-year-old lefty.
The Tigers have won Wolf's last two starts, scoring 14 combined runs along the way. They will need to bring out the bats again tonight, as Wolf is allowing 1.7 baserunners per inning. He has been slightly better at Comerica Park this season, limiting opponents to a .731 OPS thanks to a high fly ball rate and Comerica's spacious outfield. The White Sox have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, batting .236 with a .289 on-base percentage against southpaw starters this season.
The Tigers knock Johnson around to hand Wolf his first win in a Detroit uniform.