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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: The Tigers are still in the AL Central race

It’s because the AL Central is a dumpster fire, but hey, the Tigers are still only 2 1⁄2 games back.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost June.

The Detroit Tigers — the same Detroit Tigers that traded away several star talents over the past 12 months, that some decided would be the worst team in baseball (if not MLB history), that were headed for a decade-long rebuild — are just 2 12 games back in the AL Central. Even after losing five of seven games on their last road trip, they are still just 2 12 games back.

Sure, it’s only because the Indians and Twins haven’t found their footing yet. Both teams were projected to be in the playoff hunt, but have played below .500 ball so far. Cleveland’s schedule gets much easier in June, so don’t be surprised if they finally take off. But for these Tigers, just being within striking distance two months into the season is an accomplishment.

If anything, it bodes well for what the Tigers want to do this summer. Both Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano have pitched about as well as expected, and could net the Tigers a prospect or two as the trade deadline approaches. Ditto Leonys Martin, who snapped out of a recent funk with two key hits in Friday’s win. The young talent still needs some work — Jacoby Jones and Co. have fallen off a bit after hot starts — but things could be a lot worse in TigerTown right now.

I mean, they could be the White Sox.

Chicago White Sox (15-33) at Detroit Tigers (22-28)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Hector Santiago (0-2, 5.17 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (3-1, 3.42 ERA)

Game 51 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Santiago 38.1 20.1 12.4 5.93 -0.3
Liriano 52.2 17.6 12.4 4.53 0.4

The last couple seasons have not been kind to Hector Santiago. After BABIPing his way to an All-Star appearance in 2015, he lost his strikeout touch and saw his ERA rise by a full run the following season. A midseason “change of scenery” trade with Minnesota for Ricky Nolasco wasn’t what the doctor ordered, and Santiago put up a 5.58 ERA in 11 starts as the Twins fell to MLB’s worst record. He was just as bad in 2017, allowing a 5.63 ERA while dealing with shoulder and upper back injuries.

This year, the strikeout touch has returned somewhat. He has a 20.1 percent strikeout rate in 2018 compared to just 16.4 percent last season. However, his walk rate has also gone up somewhat, and opponents are making hard contact at a higher rate than before. The home run troubles are still here too — he is giving up nearly two dingers per nine innings — and a high pop-up rate is really the only thing keeping him afloat.

Key matchup: White Sox hitters vs. lefties

Last season, the White Sox were one of the best teams in baseball against left-handed pitching. They had a 106 wRC+ as a team when facing southpaws, the fifth-highest mark in baseball. This included 18 runs scored in 32 combined innings against Tigers lefty starters Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris. Ten different Sox hitters had a wRC+ of 100 or better against lefties, and six did so in 80 plate appearances or more.

But 2018 has been a completely different story. The Sox have an 84 wRC+ against lefties this year, second-to-last in the American League. They have five everyday hitters above the 100 wRC+ line, but the lows (like Yoan Moncada’s 30 wRC+) are much lower than the highs are high. Plus, with Welington Castillo now suspended for 80 games, they are down one lefty masher from before.


Liriano and the Tigers make it two in a row.

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