The Detroit Tigers just continue to get it done. Another day, another dramatic late inning comeback. Owners of the best record in the American League in the second half--along with the Texas Rangers—the Tigers are doing everything possible to run down a postseason berth. Unfortunately, they aren’t alone in that pursuit. Over the last ten games, the Tigers are 7-3. So are the Cleveland Indians.
However, the Tigers have run down the competition for the final wild card spot. Currently they sit tied with the Baltimore Orioles for that final spot, two games behind the Boston Red Sox, who hold the first wild card berth currently. Now, fresh off taking two of three in Kansas City, and five of their last six, they head to the Windy City looking to once again take advantage of a scuffling White Sox roster.
Just last Wednesday, the Tigers wrapped up a series sweep against the White Sox, but it didn’t come easy. The symmetry in schedules means that the first game in the series will be a reprisal of last Wednesday’s matchup. Justin Verlander and Chris Sale will once again lock horns in what promises to be an outstanding duel of aces.
Detroit Tigers (74-62) at Chicago White Sox (65-71)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation Blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.30 ERA) vs. LHP Chris Sale (15-7, 3.10 ERA)
Chris Sale has become as familiar an adversary as the Tigers face in recent years. Yet the tough left-hander has made some changes in 2016. Attempting to go deeper into games, Sale has paced himself more, taking something off the fastball early in games and trying to induce weak contact early in counts. In a sense, he's taken a page from the Justin Verlander playbook, attempting to get quick outs with the bases empty, and really only ramping things up to his best when the need arises.
That doesn't mean Sale's fastball, or his devastating slider, are any less effective. When Sale has a hitter down two strikes, he's still as lethal as anyone in the game. He may be slightly more hittable, but once he's in a bit of trouble, the hard-throwing lefty breaks out the full arsenal and the high velocity, becoming extremely difficult to post runs against.
In their last meeting, this all played out in textbook fashion. Sale was a bit wild, walked four batters, and he gave up eight hits to the Tigers in eight innings while striking out just four. Yet the Tigers' offense couldn't land the big blow with runners on base. They pushed across two runs, but were largely frustrated by the tough left-hander. Things will be no easier Monday afternoon on Sale's home turf.
Hitter to Fear: Jose Abreu (.370/.414/.852 in 29 plate appearances)
Hitter to Fail: Melky Cabrera (.219/.257/.406 in 35 plate appearances)
Current White Sox hitters have had reasonable success against Justin Verlander. While the Tigers' ace gets more than his share of strikeouts against them, when the White Sox do make solid contact, they often do damage. Most outings seem to feature dominance with one bad inning mixed in. Jose Abreu stands out as one of the few hitters who has had Verlander's number. He struck in their last meeting for a solo shot, his fourth career home run against the Tigers' ace.
After Verlander racked up nine strikeouts, but allowed two solo home runs, against the White Sox last Wednesday, I jokingly referred to him as a rare, three true outcomes, pitcher. That's not entirely fair, because Verlander doesn't give up many walks, but it does speak to the oddity of his struggles with the long ball this season. On a warm breezy day in the launching pad known as the Cell, Verlander will have to be careful not to get too aggressive, even with a clean set of bases behind him.
One point of interest about Chris Sale, is that while he typically does a solid job preventing home runs overall, that has not held true in his home ballpark this season. Sale has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine innings at U.S. Cellular Field in 2016. The Tigers' lineup is primed to take advantage of that weakness with their big right-handed hitters rolling at the moment.
Still, Verlander has shown that same weakness for most of the season. Expect a lot of strikeouts, few hits, and several home runs as two of the best pitchers in the game go at it. Much like the meeting last week, this should be a tight, low-scoring game that will be decided by which bullpen can lock down the late innings. So far this season, the Tigers have punished the White Sox' relievers. The reverse has not been true.
Verlander coolly spins another gem, and the Tigers' offense finally breaks through against Sale to take game one.