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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Francisco Liriano, Lucas Giolito are heading in opposite directions

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Liriano started the season hot and has fallen off considerably, while Giolito is starting to find his footing in Chicago.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this season, this pitching matchup would have looked rather lopsided. Francisco Liriano got off to a hot start in the Tigers’ rotation, maintaining an ERA in the mid-threes for most of the first half. Lucas Giolito, on the other hand, hasn’t had an ERA lower than his current mark of 5.66 since April 12. The 24-year-old righthander has certainly taken his lumps in his first season of big league action, and rated as the worst starter in baseball for most of the year.

Recently, things have been different. Liriano is the one that has rated among baseball’s worst since late June, producing a 6.20 ERA and 6.68 FIP in his 12 appearances since coming off the disabled list. Giolito has been much better in that same span, producing a 4.29 ERA and 4.68 FIP since June 22. He has gotten stronger as the season has progressed, and produced a 3.86 ERA and 3.60 FIP in six August starts (with over a strikeout per inning).

This obviously bodes well for the Sox, who are hoping Giolito helps anchor their rotation for years to come. Seeing the young righthander develop as the year goes on — and touch 97 miles per hour with his fastball along the way — has to be one of the most positive developments of their season.

Meanwhile, Liriano has just... been there. Can he shake off his struggles and deliver a win on Tuesday?

Detroit Tigers (55-83) at Chicago White Sox (56-82)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-9, 4.96 ERA) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (10-9, 5.66 ERA)

Game 139 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Liriano 107.0 17.5 13.3 5.77 -0.4
Giolito 151.0 16.7 11.6 5.47 0.1

There are likely a number of ways Giolito has improved throughout the season, but here’s one very clear trend.

Giolito’s slider has been a consistent swing-and-miss pitch all season long, while the fastball doesn’t blow hitters away. His develop has seemingly come via the changeup, which is now generating a whiff rate near 25 percent. He has clearly gotten more comfortable throwing it as the season has gone on, and eclipsed 20 percent usage on the change in August.

As one might expect, Giolito’s improvement with the changeup have resulted in much better numbers against left-handed hitters. His weighted on-base average (wOBA) against lefties has decreased in each of the past four months, going from .441 in May to a scant .245 in August.

April: .375
May: .441
June: .369
July: .328
August: .245

He has been solid, if unspectacular, against righties all season long — though his strikeout rate has improved in the second half — so the dip in production from left-handed hitters has been the *chef’s kiss* for Giolito rounding into form.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. making contact

This has been a battle for the offense all season long, but the Tigers have not fared well in their last two matchups against Giolito. The young righty limited them to four runs across 13 innings in two August meetings, winning both games. He struck out 13 hitters to just two walks in those matchups, and produced a swinging strike rate above 10 percent both times. The Tigers continue to be baseball’s most undisciplined team against pitches outside the strike zone, though a league average contact rate has resulted in a below-average strikeout rate on the season. However, their number are much worse against right-handed pitching.

Prediction

Giolito continues his strong run and the Tigers lose two in a row.

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