Chicago White Sox (63-68) at Detroit Tigers (71-61)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Chris Sale (15-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.33 ERA)
Hello again, old friend. The Tigers have seen plenty of Chris Sale already this season, with Wednesday’s matchup representing their fourth meeting of the year. Aside from a fluke Mike Pelfrey win over Sale on June 4, the results have been as expected. Sale has a 3.80 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 21 1⁄3 innings, with 19 strikeouts to just four walks. The Tigers have managed a solid .740 OPS against him and have managed to win two of their first three matchups, but those victories have largely been thanks to great pitching — the White Sox have only scored 10 runs in Sale’s three starts against Detroit this year.
Thankfully, the White Sox are facing their toughest Tigers test yet in Justin Verlander. They have only seen Detroit’s ace one time this season, a 5-2 Tigers win on June 5. Verlander struck out eight in seven innings that day, allowing two runs on just five hits. It was a ho-hum outing for him; since the tweet heard round the world on May 3, Verlander has pitched seven innings or more in 15 of his 21 starts. He doesn’t quite lead the American League in innings pitched — David Price nosed past him earlier this week, and has made one more start than Verlander — but should regain that title unless things go awry on Wednesday afternoon.
Verlander ranks third in the American League in innings pitched per start, just ahead of former teammate Rick Porcello. Alone in first place ahead of Verlander is Sale, who has averaged over seven innings per start all season long. Sale’s conscious decision to throttle back on the fastball velocity has helped him work deeper into games — he’s averaging another out per start this year, which adds up when you look at Chicago’s shaky middle relief corps — and is still striking out over a batter per inning. Sale can still reach back for his best stuff when he wants, as we saw in his last start against Detroit, but the White Sox might actually be better off with this diluted version of the 27-year-old lefty.
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.375/.423/.792 in 26 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Avisail Garcia (.214/.214/.286 in 14 plate appearances)
Stop the madness! White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia is a career .260/.311/.387 hitter, and has been worth -2.1 fWAR in 383 career games. However, Garcia is hitting a healthy .271/.321/.459 against Detroit pitching, a .780 OPS. We don’t have WAR splits for that small of a sample, but Garcia’s tOPS+ (a form of OPS+ scaled to Garcia’s career numbers) is 122 against Detroit pitching. There have been other Tigers killers from the South Side in years past, but Garcia’s dominance is particularly frustrating given his past ties to the club and brutal performance elsewhere.
Luckily, Garcia has floundered against Justin Verlander in his career, batting just .214 with no home runs in 14 plate appearances.
While no single game in a 162-game season is a must-win (except when you’re facing playoff elimination, I guess), this matchup is one that the Tigers would really like to bank. They head out on a six-game road trip following Thursday’s off day, with the first three games coming against the red-hot Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The Tigers have held their own against Sale so far this season, and Verlander has been as close to peak Verlander as we have seen at Comerica Park this year. If the offense can create any momentum from Tuesday’s outburst, the Tigers could come away with a sweep.
The Tigers are walk-off winners after a pitcher’s duel between Verlander and Sale.
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