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Game 63 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox

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Matt Boyd looks for his first win of the season as the Tigers continue their road trip.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Chicago White Sox jumped out to a 23-10 record to open the season, not many people expected it to last. Their pitching staff, while led by a trio of excellent starters, was on pace to shatter modern-day ERA records, and certain players -- cough, cough, the recently DFA'd Mat Latos -- were substantially outperforming their peripherals.

Since that high-water mark on May 9, the White Sox have wildly over-corrected in the other direction. The Sox are 8-22 in their last 30 games, worse than the hapless Atlanta Braves. Chicago has lost nine of their last 10 series, as South Side Sox's Jim Margalus points out, and have lost 10.5 games in the standings since May 9.

Water finds its level eventually, though. The White Sox won't continue to play this poorly, and they will start to round into better form. Their lineup, while thin, should get better once Jose Abreu heats up, and top prospect Tim Anderson can't help but be an improvement over Jimmy Rollins' anemic numbers. They will get better, though maybe not to a division-winning level.

Three more games of this mess would be nice, though.

Detroit Tigers (32-30) at Chicago White Sox (31-32)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (0-1, 3.38 ERA) vs. RHP James Shields (2-8, 5.06 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 21.1 19.3 10.2 4.61 0.1
Shields 69.1 19.7 9.7 4.96 0.1

Hello there, old friend. The last time the Tigers saw James Shields, he was still a member of the Kansas City Royals. The year was 2014, and Shields held the Tigers to a .280 on-base percentage and .682 OPS in five meetings. This James Shields was the Royals' staff ace, one who allowed a 3.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 227 innings. The Royals, as we all know, rode a late-inning Wild Card Game comeback all the way to their first World Series appearance in 29 years.

Shields departed for greener pastures that offseason, but the normally pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park weren't so welcoming for Shields. He still pitched over 200 innings, but his ERA ballooned to 3.91, in large part thanks to a major league worst 33 home runs allowed. In terms of ERA, it was Shields' worst season since 2010. In terms of WAR, it was Shields' worst season of his career.

Until this year, that is. Shields' swift decline has continued in 2016, though he did his best to mask it early on. Through his first 10 starts of the season, Shields held opponents to a 3.06 ERA. However, his 3.90 FIP and 3.93 xFIP hinted that something would have to give, and the overcorrection has been swift and painful. He allowed 10 runs on eight hits and four walks in his final start with the San Diego Padres on May 31, then was booed off the mound in his first start with the White Sox eight days later. Seventeen of the 39 earned runs he has allowed this season have come in his last two starts, a combined 4 2/3 innings of work.

While some may just see this as a blip on the radar, the big picture looks similar to that of Anibal Sanchez. Like Sanchez, Shields has had major home run problems over the past couple seasons, allowing 45 long balls in his last 271 2/3 innings. Both Sanchez and Shields have seen their command fail them as well; Shields' walk rate has doubled in the past two years, increasing from 4.7 percent in 2014 to 9.7 percent this season. An elevated strikeout rate from 2015 has not lingered, giving him a career-worst 2.03 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year.

Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.345/.400/.600 in 60 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.059/.158/.059 in 19 plate appearances)

Shields has posted mixed results against the Tigers in his career, but was largely effective in his two years in a Royals uniform. However, as noted above, this is not the same James Shields Tigers fans are familiar with. The Tigers have tagged Shields on multiple occasions before, such as a September 2013 start in which Shields allowed 10 runs on 14 (!) hits in 3 2/3 innings. It may not be wise to expect that kind of destruction on Monday, but Shields' current struggles should give pause when looking at the .258 average and .299 on-base percentage the current Tigers roster has against him.

Outlook

The White Sox have done a fair amount of damage against left-handed pitchers this year, but there is a stark contrast between their overall numbers against lefties and those against southpaw starters. Lefty starting pitchers have limited the Sox offense to a .227 batting average and .305 on-base percentage in 14 matchups, poor numbers even for a Chicago lineup that ranks among the worst in the American League.

Their one saving grace may be the long ball. While the White Sox rank second-to-last in the AL with 57 home runs this year, they have some home run pop in their lineup, and Boyd has been vulnerable to the long ball in the past. His 41.7 percent fly ball rate is lower than in a scattering of innings in 2015, but he is still allowing 1.27 home runs per nine innings. "The Cell" is also the smallest ballpark Boyd will have started in this season, making for a potentially dangerous matchup if his command isn't sharp.

Prediction

Boyd gets knocked out early and the Tigers can't quite complete a late-inning comeback.

★★★

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