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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: This feels like a late September game already

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A lackluster pitching matchup between two bad teams doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This game feels like it should be taking place a month later. The Tigers and White Sox are both going nowhere in 2018, but still have 30-odd games to play before moving on to next year. Saturday’s pitching matchup feels like one of those late September games where teams are all but going through the motions, and expanded roster result in eight pitching changes on both sides.

Thank goodness Robin Ventura isn’t here.

The Tigers will turn to lefthander Ryan Carpenter tonight, who has been better than his overall numbers indicate. He gave up three runs in 5 13 innings his last time out, which was good enough to earn the first win of his MLB career. In a start prior to that back in June, he held the Los Angeles Angels to a run in four innings.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he is primed for greatness. Carpenter has a very pedestrian arsenal, and the high minor league strikeout rate that made him so attractive to Detroit last winter tailed off somewhat in 2018. We’re only 18 innings into his MLB career, but an 8.2 percent swinging strike rate doesn’t exactly hint at a hidden skill set we are missing.

But that might be just enough to beat a White Sox lineup that has been one of baseball’s worst against left-handed pitching this year. Can Carpenter help deliver a home win for Detroit?

Chicago White Sox (49-79) at Detroit Tigers (53-76)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Lucas Giolito (9-9, 6.08 ERA) vs. LHP Ryan Carpenter (1-1, 6.00 ERA)

Game 130 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Giolito 137.2 15.8 12.0 5.72 -0.3
Carpenter 18.0 11.9 3.6 7.93 -0.4

When Lucas Giolito started against the Tigers 11 days ago, we identified that he has shown flashes of his potential despite some ugly overall numbers in his first full season in the White Sox rotation.

Giolito has limited opponents to two runs or fewer in seven of his 23 outings this season, and all of those went 5 2⁄3 innings or longer. His three best starts of the season (per Game Score) have all come since July 8, and he limited opponents to three hits or fewer in all three. He may get blown up on the regular — the Yankees roughed him up for seven runs on August 8 — but that doesn’t make 2018 a total loss.

Giolito backed up that faint praise with back-to-back quality starts in his last two outings. More importantly, however, were the underlying numbers. In those two starts, Giolito struck out 13 hitters to just three walks in 12 innings. It’s part of a larger trend, one that has seen his strikeout-to-walk ratio improve from 1.05 in the first half to 2.43 since the All-Star break. He has 34 strikeouts in 34 13 second half innings, along with a manageable 9.2 percent walk rate.

That hasn’t translated into results, though. Opponents are still hitting .259/.336/.452 against him in the second half, with only the slightest improvement in home run rate. He has given up over a hit per inning in those six starts, with an ERA still approaching 6.00. The quality of contact is improving — his ground ball rate is pushing 54 percent in those 34 13 frames since the break — but we still have to squint more than we* would like to see Giolito as an above-average pitcher going forward.

*I’m referring to the royal “we,” of course. Tigers fans (rightly) think Giolito and the White Sox can kick rocks.

Key matchup: Ron Gardenhire vs. finding a new setup man

No, I’m not advocating that the Tigers demote Joe Jimenez. Well, not based on performance. The Tigers have scaled back Jimenez’s innings over the past couple weeks, meaning he will almost surely be unavailable for this game. Gardenhire hasn’t needed to find a new setup man for those situations yet — the Tigers are rarely in setup situations these days, unfortunately — but he might need to down the stretch.

We humbly suggest one of the following, along with their second half numbers.

Buck Farmer: 14.1 IP, 2.51 ERA, 13 SO, 6 BB
Drew VerHagen: 17.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 19 SO, 3 BB
Victor Alcantara: 16.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 13 SO, 3 BB

Artie Lewicki would have been on that list as well. We’re talking about a small sample of innings, of course, but it’s encouraging to see a group of young-ish pitchers (especially the 25-year-old Alcantara) enjoying some success as we move toward the end of the season.

Prediction

Carpenter notches his first career quality start on Saturday.

Gameday reading