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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Matt Boyd aims for series sweep vs. James Shields, White Sox

Let’s try this again.

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Texas Rangers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Rainouts typically aren't seen as a major positive or negative during the MLB regular season. They happen to just about everyone, and the consequences are generally marginal when compared to the rigors of a 162-game schedule. That doesn't mean there aren't ripples stemming from Wednesday's rainout, though. The Tigers and White Sox will play a doubleheader on Friday, May 26. Detroit plays a game in Houston the day before, so an already cramped travel schedule gets a little more snug.

More importantly, though, is how the White Sox roster will look two months from now. Ace Jose Quintana has been on the trade block for the past five months, and could potentially be wearing another uniform the next time the Tigers are in Chicago. The White Sox could also be relying on talented prospects like Lucas Gioloto or Reynaldo Lopez in their rotation by then as well. While both (and righthander Carson Fulmer) are still quite raw, they have the raw talent to dominate a major league lineup when everything is clicking. The roster flexibility afforded by the doubleheader only increases the chances that the Tigers see one of these promising young arms in May. Meanwhile, veterans like Derek Holland -- who the Tigers now miss in this series -- and James Shields have more experience, but could ultimately flame out by then.

Until then, the Tigers can only control what is in front of them. Can they finish off a two-game sweep on Thursday?

Detroit Tigers (1-0) at Chicago White Sox (0-1)

Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (6-5, 4.53 ERA) vs. RHP James Shields (6-19, 5.85 ERA)

Game 2 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 97.1 19.9 7.0 4.75 0.9
Shields 181.2 16.4 10.0 6.01 -0.9

From yesterday's preview:

Both starting pitchers in this game struggled with their fastball velocity (among other things) last season. Shields has been on a decline over the past couple seasons; after peaking with an average fastball velocity of 93.7 miles per hour in 2014, his average heater dropped to 92.2 mph in 2015 and 91.1 mph last season. Zimmermann saw his velo dip by a full mile per hour from 2014 to 2015 as well, with a further drop in 2016.

The two starters have dealt with their respective velocity declines in different ways. Shields has not made any changes to his pitch mix; he continues to use his four-seamer roughly 30 percent of the time, along with a heavy diet of changeups, cutters, and curveballs. He threw a few more four-seamers than usual in 2016, but largely stuck to his signature four-pitch mix.

Zimmermann’s velocity decline is a bit different, since it may be due to the neck injury that plagued him for most of 2016. He threw fewer fastballs than ever before last season, with a usage rate of just 52.5 percent. In its place came a big uptick in slider usage. Zimmermann went from throwing his slider 22 percent of the time in 2015 to nearly one-third of the time last year.

So far, it seems like both pitchers are bouncing back. According to Brooks Baseball, Shields sat around 92 mph with his fastball during one spring training start in late March. There are no PitchFX data from Grapefruit League games, but radar gun readings from Lakeland had Zimmermann consistently in the 93-94 mph range, where he sat for most of his prime with the Washington Nationals. Command of said fastball will be more important for both pitchers, but a slight velocity bump doesn’t hurt.

Key matchup: Matt Boyd vs. fastball-loving righthanders

The White Sox were not a good offensive team last season. Their 94 team wRC+ was fourth-worst in the American League, and they finished below league average in nearly every meaningful offensive category. Unfortunately for Matt Boyd, nearly all of their offensive woes were against right-handed pitchers. The White Sox managed a 102 wRC+ against lefties last season, the third-best figure in the AL. Six of the nine players in Chicago’s 2017 Opening Day lineup managed a wRC+ of 112 or better against left-handed pitching last year.

Additionally, Boyd was not very good against right-handed hitters last season. He limited lefties to a .169 batting average and .266 weighted on-base average (wOBA), but allowed righties to hit .274 with a .341 wOBA. The White Sox tagged him for 13 runs (11 earned) in 19 23 innings last year, with nearly all of those coming in three starts at U.S. Cellular Guaranteed Rate Field.


On Wednesday, we mentioned how well Justin Verlander was able to limit the bottom of the White Sox lineup to just two hits. The team finished 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, a big reason why they lost their first game of the season.

Now that Boyd is starting, the opposite needs to happen. Sure, stopping every hitter from reaching base is important, but the top of the Sox lineup is particularly dangerous against Boyd, a lefty who has compiled mediocre results with his fastball so far in his career. Both Tyler Saladino and Tim Anderson hit better than .300 against fastballs last season, while Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu can turn around a mistake in a hurry. If Boyd can get ahead in the count and mix pitches effectively against this group, he should be able to limit the damage.


Boyd gives up a couple long home runs but the Tigers offense picks him up late.