Nearly every year, the Detroit Tigers seem to struggle horribly with one of their division opponents. In 2012, they went 8-10 against a 94-loss Cleveland Indians team. Two years later, they dropped 10 games against the Minnesota Twins, who finished the year with a 70-92 record. The 2015 season saw them go 9-10 against the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals, but were outscored by 41 runs. That script repeated itself last year when the Indians beat the Tigers in 14 of 18 meetings.
This year appears to be the Chicago White Sox’s turn. While the White Sox entered 2017 in the middle of a rebuild, they have beaten the Tigers in six of nine matchups this season. Worse yet, the White Sox have a +20 run differential in those nine games. Chicago is just 18-25 in games against non-Tigers opposition with a -1 run differential.
Fortunately, the Tigers have time to turn things around. Six of the nine games played between these two in 2017 have come at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the Sox are a comfortable 12-11. They are 12-17 away from home, and won’t have the chance to fatten up on any left-handed pitching like they have all season long.
Instead, they will contend with Michael Fulmer, who pitched well enough to win but received zero run support in their last meeting. Can the Tigers bats get going on Friday evening?
Chicago White Sox (24-28) at Detroit Tigers (25-28)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Derek Holland (4-4, 2.37 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (5-3, 2.65 ERA)
Game 54 Pitching Matchup
Derek Holland signed a one-year contract with the White Sox during the offseason hoping to rebuild his value before hitting free agency again next winter. While we have seen plenty others fail to have a true bounce-back season, Holland is well on his way to getting a nice new deal from a pitching-starved club. Through 10 starts, he has a 2.37 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. He has missed a few bats, racking up strikeouts in 20.5 percent of plate appearances. He is also generating more fly balls and pop-ups than in years past, which could work in a bigger ballpark.
However, there are still a few warning signs. Holland’s FIP in 60 2⁄3 innings is 4.37, two full runs above his ERA. His walk rate is at 9.5 percent, his highest clip since a partial season with the Texas Rangers in 2010. He has allowed more contact than any other season of his career.
Worst of all, his fastball velocity is declining.
No one maintains velocity forever, but this is a pretty sharp decline from a pitcher just now in his age-30 season. Injuries have limited him to just 263 2⁄3 innings over the past four seasons, and that includes his 60 2⁄3 frames from this year. If he can’t find a little more heat on his fastball as the season progresses, teams might still be wary of giving him a long-term deal this fall.
Key matchup: Michael Fulmer vs. run support
Prior to Fulmer’s last two starts, things were going just fine. He had a sparkling 5-1 record and a 2.72 ERA. While he was not on anyone’s premature Cy Young finalist list, he would certainly have drawn consideration for this year’s All-Star Game. Fulmer may still yet end up in Miami, but old school evaluators will not be quite as impressed with his 5-3 record.
However, those last two losses are not even remotely his doing. Fulmer held the White Sox and Houston Astros to a combined four runs in 15 innings, but his offense failed to score a single run in either game. One of those losses came against these same White Sox, a team that has limited Detroit to just 31 runs in nine games this year. Detroit will likely have to go through Chicago’s starting pitching to get the job done, but they need to find a way. An All-Star bid might be on the line.
Through two meetings, Holland has largely held the Tigers offense in check, with just three runs allowed. The secret? Holland has given them a heavy diet of curveballs in those two outings; out of the 200 pitches he has thrown to Tigers hitters this year, 60 have been curveballs. That’s a 30 percent usage rate for his curve, well above his season-long rate of just 16.2 percent against other teams. The Tigers offense will need to stay patient and lay off the curveball — something they have only done intermittently this year — if they want to start off June with a win.
Fulmer extends his streak of starts with 7+ innings pitched in a Tigers win.