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Tigers vs. White Sox Series Preview: Detroit looks to continue success against their rival in 2019

The Tigers beat up on the South Siders last season, and could use a bounce-back series after a rough week.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Neither the Detroit Tigers nor the Chicago White Sox were very good in 2018. Both teams lost at least 98 games, and formed two-thirds of the worst divisional trio in baseball. Both clubs will have a top-five draft pick in June as a result, and both are hoping to win a few more games in 2019. They are in similar-ish places in their respective rebuilds right now — which makes cross-site conversations like this one very easy — but both teams have major questions to answer before they return to contention.

The Tigers got the better of their division rivals in 2018, winning 12 of 19 matchups. The Sox were one of the only clubs Detroit consistently beat up on, as the Tigers went 21-36 against the rest of the division.

The two teams are heading in opposite directions heading into this weekend’s matchup. Chicago has won four of their past six games, with series wins over the Yankees and Royals over the past week. The Tigers, meanwhile, are on a five-game losing streak after starting the year 7-3.

Which trend will continue in this weekend’s series?

Statistical comparison: Tigers vs. White Sox

Overview Tigers White Sox Advantage
Overview Tigers White Sox Advantage
Batting (wRC+) 63 (14th) 104 (8th) White Sox
Fielding (DRS) 11 (2nd) -13 (14th) Tigers
Rotation (ERA-) 74 (2nd) 145 (14th) Tigers
Bullpen (ERA-) 65 (3rd) 112 (12th) Tigers
Total fWAR 2.2 (12th) 2.3 (10th) White Sox

The White Sox got off to a slow start, losing seven of their first 10 games. They have been better over the past week, with series wins over the New York Yankees (on the road!) and Kansas City Royals to bring them closer to .500. Their offense has been solid — more on that later — but nowhere near enough to make up for some awful pitching to open the year. Only two American League teams are allowing more runs per game so far, and no one expects the Boston Red Sox to continue giving up more than six runs a night.

If there’s a silver lining for the Sox, it’s that their bullpen’s poor numbers have only come from an iffy middle relief corps. Closer Alex Colome and setup man Kelvin Herrera have been reliable, with Colome a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities on the young season. Hard-throwing righthander Nate Jones has also been fine lately after struggling a bit out of the gate. These three may not quite be the three-headed bullpen monster Herrera was part of in Kansas City, but they are more than capable of protecting a lead in the later innings —especially against Detroit’s anemic offense.

Game times, TV listings, streaming info, etc.

Game 1: Thursday, Apr. 18, 1:10 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, Apr. 19, 7:10 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, Apr. 20, 1:10 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday, Apr. 21, 1:10 p.m.
Venue: Comerica Park, Detroit, Mich.
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media (all games): Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

White Sox lineup

Player Pos. PA HR RBI wRC+
Player Pos. PA HR RBI wRC+
Leury Garcia CF 70 1 7 105
Yoan Moncada 3B 73 5 16 176
Jose Abreu DH 74 3 10 82
Yonder Alonso 1B 67 3 9 108
Eloy Jimenez LF 70 2 6 95
Tim Anderson SS 61 4 12 213
Welington Castillo C 41 1 4 86
Daniel Palka RF 42 0 2 -23
Yolmer Sanchez 2B 26 0 0 -54

The White Sox offense has been average in just about every way possible so far in 2019. They rank in the middle of the American League pack in nearly every statistical category, save for stolen bases (15, tied for fourth) and strikeout rate (26.5 percent, fourth-highest). Many of their everyday hitters, like Yonder Alonso, Leury Garcia, and Eloy Jimenez, have hovered around league average in terms of wRC+, while the struggling Jose Abreu (82 wRC+) has detracted some from hot starts by Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada.

Given how their pitching staff has performed so far, the White Sox will need a bit more out of the big bats in the middle of their lineup, both in this series and beyond. Abreu, in particular, has hit well against the Tigers throughout his career, and could get off the mat in this series if Detroit’s pitching staff isn’t careful. Anderson has been red hot so far, and has a pair of home runs in his last four games — including one that incited some very dumb shenanigans from the Royals on Wednesday.

There’s a very small chance Anderson gets the dumbest suspension ever because Major League Baseball doesn’t know how to correctly police these situations, but odds are he would appeal and still be in action in this series.

The Tigers will also see old friend James McCann in this series, possibly as early as Thursday afternoon. McCann is off to a solid start, with a home run and a 120 wRC+ in 32 plate appearances. He also has a stolen base to his name, because baseball.

Pitching matchups

Game 1: RHP Ivan Nova (0-2, 5.28 ERA) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-2, 3.50 ERA)

Nova’s numbers look ugly, but that high ERA is entirely due to one bad outing against baseball’s hottest offense: the Seattle Mariners. Seven of the nine runs Nova has given up this season came in that start, which lasted just 2 13 innings. He has only allowed two runs on 10 hits in his other 13 frames of work, quality starts on the road against the Yankees and Indians. His velocity is down, but he seems to be shelving his four-seam fastball in favor of a two-seamer/slider approach. This has resulted in a huge jump in ground ball rate so far — a return to where it was during his best years with the Yankees and Pirates — and zero home runs allowed in 15 13 total innings.

Game 2: LHP Carlos Rodon (2-2, 3.27 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-2, 4.29 ERA)

Amazingly, Rodon is the first left-handed starting pitcher the Tigers will face in 2019. The 26-year-old southpaw has battled shoulder issues over the past couple seasons, but seems to have shrugged off a rough finish in 2018 (his ERA was over 9.00 in six outings last September). His velocity is also down relative to last season, but he has not shied away from throwing his lethal slider more often in 2019. Opponents are hitting just .116 against it across his four outings, and whiffing at a 23.9 percent clip. We will have to watch his platoon splits, though — neither righties nor lefties are hitting him well so far this year, but righties have an OPS nearly 200 points higher in 80 plate appearances.

Game 3: RHP Ervin Santana (0-1, 10.38 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (0-0, 4.32 ERA)

Ervin Santana did his best impression of a staff ace for a couple of years with the Minnesota Twins, even earning an All-Star nod in 2017 when he posted 4.8 rWAR in 211 13 innings. He underwent surgery to correct an issue in his right middle finger last spring, and never fully recovered. Santana logged just 24 23 innings for the Twins in 2018, and gave up 22 earned runs. Santana’s velocity has recovered slightly from last season — he’s up above 90 miles per hour now! — but this looks like the end of the line for the veteran righthander.

I mean...

Yeah. Congratulations on a nice, long career, Ervin.

Game 4: RHP Reynaldo Lopez (1-2, 8.84 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (1-1, 2.96 ERA)

This game could potentially be described as the stoppable force meeting the moveable object. The Tigers rank dead last in baseball with just seven home runs on the season. Meanwhile, Reynaldo Lopez has given up seven home runs in four starts, tied for the highest total in the American League. His numbers make sense, though; the Rays and Mariners, two of baseball’s best teams so far, combined for six of those seven homers in two rough outings for the young righthander. His other two starts have come against the lowly Kansas City Royals, and those have looked much better — Lopez has a 4.50 ERA with one home run allowed in 10 innings. Walks are still an issue, though, as he has issued 14 free passes already.

What we’re rooting for: can the big bats wake up?

The Tigers were never going to continue winning games while hardly scoring, as they somehow managed through the first week-plus of the regular season, but regression has not gone in their favor either. Detroit’s pitching is still strong, ranking second in the American League in ERA-, but the hitting still has not picked up. The Tigers rank at or near the bottom of the AL in just about every major offensive category, and could be without their biggest power threat in Christin Stewart after he suffered an injury on Wednesday evening.

While just about everyone in the lineup could stand to pick up the hitting, the largest share of the blame goes to the two players who were projected to shoulder the load in 2019: Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera. The two have combined for just five RBI through Detroit’s first 17 games, and neither player has hit a home run so far. They have eight combined extra-base hits — six from Castellanos — but that hasn’t translated to much run production so far.esday evening.