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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: The Tigers are the worst team in the American League (right now)

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Detroit will probably be in last place by the end of this series.

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Before the 2017 season began, we pointed at the Chicago White Sox as one reason why the Tigers could potentially make up ground on other AL Wild Card contenders in other divisions. With the White Sox and either the Minnesota Twins or Kansas City Royals potentially destined for the AL Central cellar, the Tigers would hypothetically have been able to pad their résumé with a few more easy wins. Instead, the tables were turned and the Tigers became the bottom feeder.

However, for most of the year, the White Sox served as Detroit’s security blanket of sorts. I found myself saying “At least we’re not in last place” on more than one occasion, and the White Sox were to thank for that.

Well, the tables have (nearly) been turned again. The Tigers are just one game ahead of the White Sox in the AL standings, and one “behind” them in the race for the No. 3 overall pick in next year’s MLB draft.

Given how their respective rosters are currently constructed, I like Detroit’s chances of getting there. The lineups are roughly even right now. The Tigers have some nice top-end talent in Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos, but Cabrera has fought injuries all season long. Meanwhile, the Sox have a resurgent Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia’s BABIPy goodness leading the way. They had been the hot team of late, scoring nearly five runs per game in September even prior to Thursday’s 17-7 drubbing.

The real difference comes on the other side, though. The Sox are currently sporting a starting rotation with a top-10 overall prospect and two more top-100 pitchers. They also have a Quad-A starter and an ineffective veteran in the mix, but so do the Tigers. Right now, I’d much rather have Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez over Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer.

It’s not a stretch to say that the White Sox are a better team right now despite having been the inferior club for most of the year. And I’m okay with that, so long as it helps the Tigers move up the draft board by season’s end.

Chicago White Sox (59-87) at Detroit Tigers (60-86)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Carson Fulmer (2-1, 6.00 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-4, 7.43 ERA)

Game 147 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 12.0 21.8 14.6 7.74 -0.2
Sanchez 82.1 19.0 5.7 6.27 -0.5

Carson Fulmer was one of the top pitching prospects in a relatively thin 2015 draft class. A teammate of No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson at Vanderbilt, Fulmer was taken by the White Sox at No. 8. He instantly became one of the top prospects in their system, and they treated him as such, pushing him straight to Double-A in his first full season of pro ball. He struggled with the higher level of competition, posting a 4.76 ERA in 87 innings at that level in 2016. Chicago’s confidence in him never wavered, though, and Fulmer was promoted to the big leagues in July before ending the season at Triple-A Charlotte.

This year has been more of the same for Fulmer. He spent most of the year at Triple-A, but allowed a 5.79 ERA in 126 innings. Opponents averaged more than a hit per inning against him, along with plenty of walks for an unsightly 1.56 WHIP. They also managed 1.29 home runs per nine innings, not an easy feat in the relatively neutral International League.

In many cases, one might worry that Chicago’s aggressive approach with their top prospects isn’t paying off with Fulmer. They have been quick to push their top picks to the pros in the past — Chris Sale made his major league debut the same year he was drafted, remember — but Fulmer seems to be a little more raw than most advanced college pitchers. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen voiced those concerns in the first paragraph of an article about Fulmer and some other Sox prospects in 2016.

Carson Fulmer was perhaps the 2015 draft’s most polarizing prospect. He was, on one hand, a college prospect with a career-long track record of success (sub-2 ERAs as a sophomore and junior, 167 Ks in 127.2 IP in ’15) and objectively hellacious stuff, while, on the other hand, both inefficient and the owner of an ugly-duckling delivery that scared off many more scouts than just the usual cross section of xenophobes. Mostly, three camps formed: the group that thought Fulmer could start, the group who thought he’d end up in relief and was bothered enough by that to move him down their board, and the group that thought he’d end up in relief but didn’t care.

The “hellacious stuff” part is true; his fastball has averaged almost 94 miles per hour in a small handful of major league innings this year, and he has topped out at 96.5 mph. His secondaries are also nasty, led by an 89 mph cutter that he throws nearly 25 percent of the time. He also mixes in a changeup and curveball that he will throw to righties and lefties, and both pitches have above-average potential per Longenhagen.

The problem? Well...

Key matchup: Carson Fulmer vs. whoa where’s that ball going

Fulmer’s biggest issue in his young professional career has been his command (or lack thereof). The 23-year-old righthander has 15 walks in 23 23 career major league innings so far, and his minor league rates haven’t been much better. He walked over 4 12 batters per nine innings at Triple-A Charlotte this year, and walked nearly five batters per nine in 2016. He has generally posted strikeout numbers to match, but isn’t missing bats at the major league level yet. If he can’t start hitting the strike zone more regularly, he will struggle to live up to his lofty prospect status.

Prediction

Another long game filled with lots of hits by the White Sox.