Chicago White Sox (72-79) at Detroit Tigers (70-81)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: RHP Frankie Montas (0-0, 1.13 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (3-8, 3.46 ERA)
Following a solid season at Double-A Birmingham and a handful of relief appearances this September, rookie Francellis "Frankie" Montas will make his first career start this afternoon. The 22-year-old righthander was 5-5 with a 2.97 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 23 starts for the Barons this season, where he struck out nearly a batter per inning while allowing a 1.22 WHIP. This was his first crack at the Double-A level -- save for a lone appearance there in 2014 -- and he skipped Triple-A entirely when called up to Chicago in September.
Montas, who was involved in the trade that brought Jose Iglesias to Detroit, was one of Chicago's top prospects heading into the 2015 season. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus ranked him fifth in the organization, lists that have graduated the likes of Carlos Rodon and Micah Johnson already this season. BP praised Montas' "elite arm strength" and high-octane fastball -- his four-seamer has averaged 97.2 miles per hour in eight relief innings this month -- but noted that his secondary pitches lack behind developmentally. He wowed scouts and fans alike by hitting 101 miles per hour on the radar gun at the Futures Game during the All-Star break this year.
The White Sox will continue to push Montas as a starter, but everyone else on the internet seems to think that his future in the bullpen. Minor League Ball's John Sickels said as much, but noted improved command compared to previous viewings. ESPN's Keith Law came away unimpressed at the Futures Game, citing a lack of fastball life despite Montas' premium velocity (Law also praised now-Tigers prospect Jairo Labourt, who struggled in Lakeland down the stretch). Baseball Prospectus doesn't even mention the rotation as a possibility, but thinks Montas could be a shutdown reliever.
After questioning Justin Verlander's success against AL Central opponents in 2015, the Tigers' ace came within an out of throwing a complete game against the eventual division champions. Verlander's exit was the subject of scrutiny, especially after Alex Wilson served up a game-tying home run to Salvador Perez, but the strong outing was yet another in a resurgent season for Verlander. His strikeout rate is only a hair above league average at 19.9 percent, but he has a 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his best since 2012 (and fourth-best of his career).
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.500/.529/.938 in 17 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Melky Cabrera (.154/.207/.231 in 29 plate appearances)
Verlander has not faced the White Sox this season, and his career numbers are rather unremarkable. He has a 3.97 ERA and 2.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 starts against Chicago, though many of his struggles came against past Sox hitters like Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. The current White Sox roster has not fared so well, hitting .238/.277/.386 in a collective 224 plate appearances. Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton lead the way with some solid numbers, and Tyler Flowers has homered twice in 24 plate appearances.
Chicago's late announcement of Montas as their starter spoiled a potenetial showdown between Verlander and Chris Sale, but this matchup is probably better for the Tigers' chances of splitting the series. Montas shares Sale's premium fastball velocity and shows flashes of a nasty slider, but he lacks the same consistency that the perennial Cy Young candidate has displayed throughout his young career. If the Tigers can stay patient and lay off of Montas' slider, they could get to him early, especially if his fastball is as straight as some scouting reports have indicated.
The offense's struggles continue, wasting another solid outing from Verlander.