The Detroit Tigers have quite a history with Chris Sale. Everyone remembers “Binoculargate,” a bizarre sequence that took place at Comerica Park in 2014. Sale presumably thought Victor Martinez and other Tigers hitters were stealing signs from someone in the outfield. This led to Martinez getting plunked, the requisite emptying of benches, and a whole host of awesome internet memes. Sale later denied the claim, but do you think Tigers fans believed him? Not a chance.
There was also an incident at then-U.S. Cellular Field in 2016. Asked to wear throwback jerseys that were part of a Saturday giveaway, Sale more than just refused. He took matters into his own hands, and cut the jerseys into pieces so they were unwearable. The Sox sent Sale home, and still beat the Tigers, 4-3. Naturally, we had some fun with that one too. Oh, and so did the West Michigan Whitecaps.
Now, with Sale out of the division, there will be fewer opportunities for future antics between him and the Tigers. I wouldn’t call this “unfortunate,” because he’s a great pitcher who has excellent career numbers against the Tigers. It will be fun to see him on the Comerica Park mound again, though.
Boston Red Sox (3-2) at Detroit Tigers (3-2)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Chris Sale (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-0, 2.84 ERA)
Game 6 Pitching Matchup
Last season, Sale adopted more of a pitch-to-contact philosophy. While it seemed to unsettle him a bit early in the year, he had arguably his best season to date. Sure, his 3.34 ERA was over a full run higher than the 2.17 mark he posted in 2014, but Sale managed to pitch a career-high 226 2⁄3 innings in 32 starts, also a career best. He led all of baseball with six complete games, and generally accomplished what the White Sox were hoping — dominate the game and give the bullpen a day off.
We can point at certain discrepancies in Sale’s stat line, such as a six percentage point drop-off in his strikeout rate, but that’s just splitting hairs. He struck out five batters for every walk, and was one of seven qualified pitchers in baseball to post a K-BB% above 20 percent.
Justin Verlander was also one of those seven pitchers last season. He roared out of the gate in 2017, striking out 10 White Sox hitters in his season debut. Of particular note was the movement on Verlander’s fastball; while this may just be due to some Opening Day adrenaline, Verlander saw a noticeable increase in horizontal movement on his four-seamer.
Note: more negative movement in PitchFX = more arm-side movement from a right-handed pitcher.
Of course, we will also need to watch Verlander’s velocity. While fans were pleased to see a few hot readings on the radar gun early in the game, Verlander only averaged 93.4 miles per hour with the heater, a step below last season’s 94.3 mph average fastball.
Key matchup: The bullpen vs. the strike zone
The Tigers’ bullpen has been a problem throughout this series, blowing two saves in just three games. While they were ultimately able to win on Friday, Sunday’s blow-up restored the late-game paranoia that Tigers fans have had for years. The overall numbers for this series aren’t pretty: 8 2⁄3 innings pitched, 12 hits, nine earned runs, and five walks. The walks, in particular, have been killers. Not only did Kyle Ryan walk in a run on Sunday, but all three walks that Tigers pitchers issued in the decisive eighth inning came around to score. Add in Friday’s game, and four of the five walks that Tigers relievers have given up this weekend have scored.
Long story short: throw strikes.
The Tigers have already done well for themselves in this series, clinching a split against one of the best teams in the American League. That said, they could really use this game. The Tigers’ schedule does not set up well in the coming weeks, as they have just 19 of their next 48 games at home. A brutal May slate could put the Tigers behind the eight ball as we head into the summer months, so banking wins early in the season could be more important than in most seasons. Luckily, they have the right man for the job on the mound today; Verlander managed a 0.93 WHIP and 5.21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 home starts last season.
The bullpen squanders another late lead and the Tigers drop a second straight game.