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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: The battle for 3rd place in the AL Central rages on

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The Tigers and White Sox battle for divisional supremacy on Wednesday.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 MLB season has blessed us with several interesting playoff races, far more than we initially anticipated at the start of the year. The National League is a hot mess, with eight teams within 3 12 games of a playoff spot. The American League isn’t bad either, largely thanks to the Oakland Athletics making things interesting out west.

Meanwhile, the only interesting race in the AL Central is the battle between the Tigers and White Sox for third place. Fun stuff, right? The two clubs will play for the 19th and final time on Wednesday, with the winner momentarily moving into third place in the division. The Tigers have the upper hand in the season series, with an 11-7 record, but have only scored six more runs than the White Sox this year.

However, some may argue that the loser of today’s game is the real winner. The Tigers and White Sox currently have identical records, but Detroit holds a tiebreaker over Chicago (and every other team, really) in determining the order of picks for the 2019 MLB draft. The Tigers and White Sox are just a game “behind” Miami for the No. 4 overall pick, and just two behind the San Diego Padres for the No. 3 pick. Fans are divided on how much this draft position means, but we’re all paying attention to it at this point.

Hey, at least it’s a late-season race of some kind, right?

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

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: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (6-6, 4.22 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Kopech (1-0, 0.82 ERA)

Game 140 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 106.2 20.8 4.0 4.48 1.2
Kopech 11.0 18.8 2.1 3.15 0.3

We didn’t preview Michael Kopech’s first start against the Tigers last week, which was just as well because it would have consisted entirely of “he throws really, really hard.” And, well... that hasn’t really changed. Kopech has thrown that mighty four-seamer roughly 70 percent of the time through his first three MLB starts, and it has averaged over 96 miles per hour with a top velocity of 99 mph. His fastball has one of the highest spin rates in the game, and should eventually generate plenty of swings and misses.

It hasn’t yet, but that hasn’t hurt Kopech through three starts. The 22-year-old righty has seemingly taken something off the fastball — which has averaged 98-100 mph in other looks Brooks Baseball has gotten — in order to maintain his command against big league hitters. He has just one walk in 11 innings, but also only has nine strikeouts and a 9.2 percent swinging strike rate.

It’s tough to say exactly why this is the case. Maybe the Sox are having Kopech take his foot off the gas as he gets towards the end of the season. He has been limited to three innings or fewer in two of his three big league starts — the lone exception a six-inning domination of the Tigers back on August 26 — and has already eclipsed his innings total from last season. Maybe they just want him to learn how to command his fastball a little better; that 11.1 percent walk rate he posted in Triple-A this year won’t fly in the big leagues.

Either way, it hasn’t hurt him yet, and probably won’t against the Tigers again on Wednesday.

Key matchup: Victor Martinez vs. career milestones

By now, you should be aware that Victor Martinez is having a great second half. He is batting .302/.338/.481 since the All-Star break, and has nearly as many extra base hits in the second half (13) as he did in the first half (14). And as our friend Lowell pointed out on Twitter, Martinez is only four home runs away from 250 career dingers. It’s probably too much to ask someone with nine home runs this season to add four more over his final 20-ish games, but I personally wouldn’t be too offended to see Martinez sell out for a bit of power to see if he can’t achieve a nice little milestone before he hangs up his cleats for good.

Since we’re pointing out random second half stats...

Mikie Mahtook has a 156 wRC+ in 75 plate appearances. That is all.

Prediction

Kopech dominates Detroit again and the White Sox take the series.

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