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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Michael Fulmer is still a mystery

After a grand return from injury last week, Fulmer faltered in his last outing.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the 2018 Detroit Tigers have me shaking my head. Just days after Michael Fulmer looked like his old self in a short start against the Chicago White Sox — he limited the Sox to two hits in 4 23 innings, with extra zip on his breaking ball that we haven’t seen in 2018 — he bombed against the Kansas City Royals, one of the worst lineups in baseball. Fulmer had one of his worst starts of the season in Kansas City, allowing seven runs in just 3 23 innings.

(Sure, maybe the Royals have been better lately, but it was still a disappointing result after what we saw on August 24.)

The Tigers have been out of the AL playoff picture for a while, but perhaps focuses will shift now that we are in September. Teams see the sun setting on the 2018 season, and players can start building towards next season. Pitchers like Fulmer may look to tinker a bit more, trying to find something that works before entering the cold abyss of the offseason.

Fortunately for him, he gets to do so against the very same team he shut down several days ago. The White Sox haven’t had much success against Fulmer in his young career, and that hasn’t changed even during his up-and-down 2018 season. Can Fulmer continue his success against the Sox on Monday?

Detroit Tigers (55-82) at Chicago White Sox (55-82)

Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (3-10, 4.71 ERA) vs. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (5-9, 4.51 ERA)

Game 138 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 120.1 19.7 7.7 4.32 1.5
Lopez 155.2 17.3 9.8 5.03 1.0

We have seen a lot of Reynaldo Lopez lately. The 24-year-old flamethrower will make his third start against the Tigers in as many weeks on Monday, and his sixth start against them this season. As will happen when a pitcher makes nearly 20 percent of his starts against one team, Lopez’s results against the Tigers mirror his season-long performance. He has walked 12 batters in 30 23 innings while only striking out 20, a surprisingly low number given his high-octane fastball.

However, he has gotten by without a lot of swings and misses. Lopez has allowed just 27 hits in those 30 23 frames against Detroit, and has only allowed 146 hits in his 155 23 innings all season long. Opponents have been able to hit for some power, though; he has allowed 23 home runs this year, or 1.33 per nine innings. This is one area where Detroit has struggled, both against Lopez and as a whole this season. The Tigers still sit dead-last in the American League with 114 home runs this year, and their .139 isolated power (ISO) is third-worst in baseball.

Despite their lack of power, the Tigers have beaten Lopez four out of five times this year. A couple of wins were largely thanks to their own pitching — Mike Fiers out-dueled him in a 1-0 Tigers win back in April — but like the rest of baseball, Detroit has figured out Lopez a bit more lately.

Key matchup: Fulmer vs. the top half of the lineup

White Sox manager Rick Renteria has seemingly gotten a bit more creative with his lineups in recent weeks. Between injuries and underperformance — Yoan Moncada’s rough year, in particular — the Sox have juggled the top of their lineup more often. This has resulted in a fairly lefty-heavy lineup against right-handed pitchers. Take Friday’s batting order against the Boston Red Sox, for instance. Four of Chicago’s first five hitters were left-handed, and that group did not include Tiger killer Omar Narvaez. Fulmer’s platoon splits haven’t been very pronounced, but Chicago’s lefties have produced at an above-average rate against right-handed pitching this year.

Prediction

Fulmer gets back on track and the Tigers take game one.

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