Ever since the Tigers began their slow descent into
madness the bottom of the American League standings earlier this summer, fans have been keeping a close eye on their relative position among other teams. Why? Because the worse their record gets in 2017, the better their position will be for the 2018 MLB draft. A few weeks ago, the Tigers were looking at a pick in the No. 6-8 range.
Since then, the bottom has fallen out. The Tigers traded Justin Verlander and Justin Upton at the end of August, and are just 2-10 in September. They have won one series since the start of August, and have as many wins since the All-Star break as the Cleveland Indians do since their last loss.
Now, the Tigers are a few games clear of the Cincinnati Reds for the No. 4 pick. They are closing in on the Chicago White Sox at No. 3, and the two teams begin a four-game weekend series this afternoon (afternoon?) at Comerica Park.
While both teams are in a similar position in the standings, their respective focuses are a little different. The Tigers are simply trying to close out the year after dealing several of their stars. Injuries have limited their options on the pitching staff and in the field; while the team would like to give some young players some major league reps, it’s not their main focus.
Meanwhile, the White Sox have started to bring their next wave of talent up to the big leagues. Promising young starters Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez have both won games in the last week, and Yoan Moncada is one of several position players getting his feet wet in the majors. The Sox are 5-7 in September and have a positive run differential.
In short, Chicago looks much more competitive at this point, and has more incentive to win. Will that play out in this series? Or will the Tigers right the ship and win a few more games?
Chicago White Sox (58-87) at Detroit Tigers (60-85)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP James Shields (3-6, 5.40 ERA) vs. LHP Chad Bell (0-2, 5.79 ERA)
Game 146 Pitching Matchup
It’s about over for James Shields. The former ace of the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals has seen his career nosedive over the past couple years. He couldn’t crack the 200-inning barrier last season, the first time since 2006 he didn’t shoulder that load. Then, his shoulder gave out on him in 2017. He has pitched just 98 1⁄3 innings this season, and they have been some of the worst of his career. Through 18 starts, Shields has a 5.40 ERA and a 6.00 FIP, numbers comparable to 2016’s -1.1 WAR effort.
As one might expect from a 35-year-old pitcher with nearly 2400 major league innings on his arm, Shields’ stuff has fallen off. He is barely averaging 90 miles per hour with his fastball these days, and it doesn’t have the same movement it once did. The movement separation between his three best pitches — his fastball, cutter, and changeup — has also shrunk, making the pitches look more homogeneous than ever. The whiff rate on his changeup has nearly been halved in the last two years, and opponents have managed an ISO of .230 or better against all three pitches (which he throws roughly 70 percent of the time).
Shields will likely finish out the year with the Sox, but they have a decision to make entering next season. Will he continue serving as a staff mentor and innings eater, or will they cut him loose in hopes of contending with the Indians and Twins at the top of the division? They only owe $10 million of his $21 million contract next year, so eating part of the deal gets a lot easier for White Sox ownership should they choose the latter path.
Key matchup: Nick Castellanos vs. BABIP
For all of the talk of potential vs. production with Nick Castellanos this season, the two factions have been remarkably similar over the past few months. Since June 1* — starting in a series against the White Sox, oddly enough — Castellanos is hitting a robust .292/.332/.535 with seven triples and 17 home runs. He has a .323 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) during that stretch, lending credence to those who pointed out how unlucky he was during the early months of the year. Castellanos’ batted ball profiles have been fairly consistent from month to month as well. If he can avoid a bad stretch next year, he might finally have that true “breakout” everyone is looking for.
*Credit to whoever wrote about this in the comments this week. I’d look but my work computer is slow and SB Nation’s search feature is garbage.
The Sox beat up on the Tigers’ bullpen and take game one.