It’s finally here! After an offseason of debating lineup construction, the starting rotation, and who the hell is going to play center field, we finally get to put those issues to rest as the Tigers take the field against the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day.
(And then they take a day off and we argue about the same crap all over again.)
The Tigers will get a stiff test in their opener: White Sox ace Jose Quintana. The 28-year-old lefthander has been the subject of constant trade rumors since Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were shipped out of town last December, but teams have not yet ponied up for the 2016 All-Star. Quintana has been remarkably consistent over the past four seasons, compiling a 3.35 ERA and 3.34 FIP in 814 2⁄3 innings. He has topped the 200-inning mark in each of those four years, and had slowly been improving his peripherals every season until the slightest of drop-offs in 2016.
While Quintana “only” managed a 3.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season, he continued to suppress home runs at a near-elite level. As the league’s overall home run rate skyrocketed to 1.22 per nine innings last year, Quintana limited opponents to less than one per nine. Only 9.5 percent of fly balls he allowed left the ballpark, which is also well below the league average of 13 percent. These figures are impressive on their own, but are even more so when you factor in the bandbox he calls home.
Of course, the White Sox have to score runs too, and Tigers ace Justin Verlander isn’t exactly giving them away. Which team will scratch across enough runs to move into first place today?
Detroit Tigers (0-0) at Chicago White Sox (0-0)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (16-9, 3.04 ERA in 2016) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (13-12, 3.20 ERA in 2016)
Game 1 Pitching Matchup
Throughout his career, Quintana has been remarkably consistent against both left- and right-handed hitters. Righties have hit just eight points better against Quintana than lefties throughout his career, and have only slugged 10 points higher. Those splits were a bit more pronounced in 2016, but he still held righties to a meager .247 batting average and .298 on-base percentage.
This will be put to the test on Monday. The Tigers are likely to send an entirely right-handed lineup to the plate to face the left-handed Quintana. While he has pitched well against the Tigers at times in the past, they have managed a 119 tOPS+ off him — meaning they are 19 percent better than his career splits — in 17 meetings. Naturally, Miguel Cabrera has been Quintana’s biggest pest, hitting .349/.440/.605 in 50 plate appearances.
Key matchup: Justin Verlander vs. the month of April
Throughout his brilliant career, Justin Verlander has consistently struggled to find a groove early in the season. While his career 3.95 ERA in March and April might not scream that something is wrong, we’ve seen shaky first months from him in the past before he settles into a lineup-munching groove in May. Last season, opponents hit .261/.317/.505 against him in April, resulting in a 5.46 ERA. The slow start not only cost him the Cy Young, it potentially cost the Tigers a shot at the playoffs.
This year, things might be different. Verlander tweaked his offseason training routine to better prepare for the early part of the season, and a longer spring training (because of the World Baseball Classic) could help him shake off the early season rust. While Opening Day typically hasn’t been a problem in the past, the White Sox have given him trouble from time to time. Jose Abreu, in particular, has roughed up Verlander in previous meetings; it will be important to face him with the bases empty at all times in 2017.
Weather can always wreak havoc with early season games, and this season opener might be one of them. While the rain in Chicago’s forecast for Monday afternoon may not wash out the Opening Day festivities, the damp conditions could affect how the ball travels, even in a ballpark as small as Guaranteed Rate Field. This may not matter so much with Verlander and Quintana on the mound, but could help Chicago’s next two starters — namely, old nemesis James Shields on Wednesday — limit the amount of loud contact the Tigers offense can create.
But really, Mother Nature, please let us get this one in.
Verlander and Quintana cancel each other out, but the Tigers scratch across a late run for the win.