Losses like the one the Detroit Tigers suffered to the White Sox on Tuesday evening are frustrating. Watching their favorite team’s offense fail to score is going to peeve even the most level-headed baseball fans, and doubly so when that offense gets blanked by a pitcher with inconsistent career results, such as Chicago’s Miguel Gonzalez.
The loss is also frustrating because the Tigers blew a chance to move closer in the standings to the Cleveland Indians, who also lost on Tuesday. Coupled with an Orioles win, the Tigers are now a game back in the AL Wild Card race, with the red-hot Houston Astros breathing down their necks.
Let’s look at a slightly bigger picture, though. The Tigers are 3-2 on their current road trip, one that we were queasy about from the beginning. Even a loss in this game would put them at .500 on the current swing, with 14 of their next 20 upcoming games at Comerica Park. If the Tigers can eke out a win on Wednesday against Jose Quintana and the White Sox, things will look even better.
Detroit Tigers (75-63) at Chicago White Sox (66-72)
Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (7-13, 5.70 ERA) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (11-10, 3.05 ERA)
I’m not sure what the White Sox offense has against Jose Quintana. For five years now, they have failed to score runs in his starts, resulting in relatively meager win-loss records despite excellent performance on his part. His 11 wins in 2016 are already a career-high, and his career record is just 44-44. Worse yet, Quintana is turning in a Cy Young caliber season in 2016. He has a 3.05 ERA and 1.11 WHIP (both career bests), and his 4.5 fWAR is just behind of a trio of pitchers (4.7 WAR) tied for the AL lead. Quintana also ranks in the top 10 in strikeout-to-walk ratio and FIP.
Quintana’s progression into one of the American League’s best pitchers has been interesting, if not entirely enjoyed as a divisional foe. He has lowered an already respectable walk rate to just north of five percent over the past couple seasons, and is now striking out a career-high 22.3 percent of hitters. While his home run rate has trended in the wrong direction this season, Quintana has not been affected by baseball’s dinger surge as badly as others (his home run rate still ranks in the top 10 in the AL). He is allowing more fly balls than ever before as well, another reason for the slight uptick in homers.
Part of the reason for Quintana’s 2016 improvement (as well as the uptick in fly ball rate) has to be how he is using his fastball. In years past, Quintana would pound the strike zone with his four and two-seamers. Opponents hit roughly .260 against both pitches without much power. This year, Quintana is doing a better job of staying out of the middle of the plate, especially against lefties. His even platoon splits have become more traditional, with left-handed batters hitting just .224/.252/.322. He is also elevating the fastball more often, resulting in more fly balls and pop-ups.
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.529/.579/1.059 in 19 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Todd Frazier (.100/.091/.100 in 11 plate appearances)
The White Sox offense has perked up in recent weeks, and it comes as no surprise that Jose Abreu’s breakout was the catalyst for this improvement. Since August 1, the White Sox are averaging 4.6 runs per game, well above their season-long average of 4.0 before that. Abreu has been on fire since that date, hitting .370/.415/.681 with 12 home runs and 31 RBI. Tim Anderson (127 wRC+ in the last 30 days) and Adam Eaton (115) have also been producing in front of Abreu, giving him more chances to drive in runs.
The Tigers have historically put a lot of runners on base against Quintana, and 2016 has been no different. However, Quintana has been able to wiggle his way out of trouble most of the time, resulting in just eight runs allowed in three meetings this season. The Tigers are 1-2 in said meetings, and were blanked by Quintana for six innings in their lone matchup at U.S. Cellular Field earlier this year. Anibal Sanchez will need to be at his best today if the Tigers are going to win, but even that might be enough against Quintana.
Sanchez’s home run issues continue and the Tigers drop the series.
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