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Game 96 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox

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Mike Pelfrey and the Tigers will try to snap a two-game skid on Thursday against the White Sox.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

While the Detroit Tigers' recent homestand was a frustrating turn of events for a team trying to chase down multiple teams in the AL Wild Card race, a 3-3 record was much better than what the Chicago White Sox have managed since the All-Star break. The Sox opened the second half with a six-game west coast trip and promptly went 1-5 against the Angels and Mariners. Including a series loss against the Atlanta Braves just prior to the All-Star break, the Sox have lost seven of their last nine games and fallen 10 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.

All of a sudden, those two losses to the Twins don't look so bad. One silver lining the Tigers can take from that frustrating series is that their starting pitching was excellent, holding a surging Twins offense to just four runs in a combined 20 innings. Anibal Sanchez hasn't done to earn back the trust of Tigers' fans quite yet, but Matt Boyd has sandwiched a pair of strong starts around the All-Star break.

Then there's Mike Pelfrey. He was looking strong in recent weeks prior to his start against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, but the wheels came off quickly for Pelfrey in an 8-4 loss. He only recorded five outs, and allowed five runs on four hits and four walks before he was mercifully lifted from the game.

Pelfrey has had his moments against the White Sox this season, however. He was able to beat Cy Young contender Chris Sale on June 4, and was in line for a quality start 11 days later before an inherited runner scored in a 5-3 loss. Can Pelfrey keep the White Sox offense at bay again?

Detroit Tigers (49-46) at Chicago White Sox (46-48)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Pelfrey (2-9, 4.95 ERA) vs. RHP James Shields (4-11, 5.10 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pelfrey 100.0 10.1 9.2 5.38 0.2
Shields 109.1 16.1 9.9 5.20 0.2

I wouldn't blame you if you blacked it out of your memory considering how the game ended, but the Tigers battered James Shields in their last meeting. Shields allowed seven runs (six earned) in five innings of work, the third such start in a stretch of four absolutely horrible outings that saw his ERA balloon from 3.06 to 6.28. In those four starts, Shields worked just 11 1/3 innings and allowed 32 (!) runs on 32 hits. Four starts, and a 24.62 ERA.

The fact that we're talking about those four starts in isolation tells you that Shields has gotten his act together in recent weeks. He was shelled by the Cleveland Indians five days after his start against the Tigers, but has limited opponents to a 2.43 ERA and .685 OPS in his last five outings. He hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of those starts, and yet the White Sox are still only 2-3 in those games.

I don't know if I buy this latest new-and-improved version of Shields, though. He has just 15 strikeouts to 11 walks in those five starts, totaling 33 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .215, but have an unsustainable .216 BABIP; Shields has also stranded 89.2 percent of runners during this stretch, another unsustainable rate. The 23.8 percent line drive rate he has allowed during this stretch also points towards some pending regression.

Hitter to fear: Adam Eaton (.417/.462/.583 in 13 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brett Lawrie (.091/.091/.091 in 11 plate appearances)

While it was nice to see Pelfrey beat Chris Sale earlier this season, the White Sox offense has still managed some solid numbers against him. As a team, the current roster is batting .308/.357/.385, which is a very Pelfrey-ish slash line. No Sox hitter has homered off him, and only seven of their 36 hits in 117 at-bats have gone for extra bases. Adam Eaton has been the biggest pest at 5-for-12, while Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia are also getting on base at a .375 clip or better. Only Brett Lawrie and J.B. Shuck have an OBP under .300 against Pelfrey.

Outlook

This feels like the type of game that should be a barn-burner on paper, but ends up being a tightly contested 3-2 contest at the end of the night. The Tigers offense has been scuffling something awful lately, and are facing a hot starter in Shields (even if he is bee-lining towards a hard regression at some point). Meanwhile, the White Sox have struggled to score runs all season long, though Mike Pelfrey can cure a lot of offensive ails on the right night.

Basically, I have no idea what will happen, but it will probably be weird.

Prediction

The Tigers drop their third game in a row.

★★★

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