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Tigers vs. White Sox Series Preview: Detroit aims for another winning road trip

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The Tigers make their first trip to the South Side of 2019

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers fared pretty well against the Chicago White Sox in 2018, and continued their winning ways in the first meeting of the 2019 season between the two clubs last weekend. Detroit took two out of three games (with one postponed), and continued their run by winning the first two games of their next series — the doubleheader sweep over Boston earlier this week.

Now they head to Chicago, where they were nigh unbeatable in 2018. Seriously, the Tigers went 8-1 at Guaranteed Rate Field in 2018, and outscored Chicago 50 to 26 in their own building. That run of dominance likely won’t continue in 2019 — the Sox actually outscored Detroit in last weekend’s three-game set — but the Tigers have proven to be a scrappy bunch that is tougher to beat than many expected before the season began.

Can they continue to grind out wins against the Sox this weekend?

Statistical comparison: Tigers vs. White Sox

Overview Tigers White Sox Advantage
Overview Tigers White Sox Advantage
Batting (wRC+) 77 (14th) 97 (8th) White Sox
Fielding (DRS) 1 (9th) -18 (14th) Tigers
Rotation (ERA-) 78 (5th) 139 (15th) Tigers
Bullpen (ERA-) 89 (5th) 101 (9th) Tigers
Total fWAR 4.0 (7th) 2.7 (13th) Tigers

As we mentioned last week, the White Sox are a decent offensive team undone by their pitching staff. Their rotation and bullpen have gotten better over the past week, in no small part because they got to face Detroit’s punchless offense for three games. They also did well against the Baltimore Orioles; righthander Ivan Nova was lit up for nine runs, but the Sox limited the O’s to just six runs across the other two games of the series.

The White Sox have also been hampered by one of the worst defensive units in baseball. They have already committed 21 errors, the second-highest total in the American League, and also sit second-to-last in the AL in Defensive Runs Saved. Nearly everyone has been to blame, too — Yolmer Sanchez is the only regular with a positive DRS total so far, and the Sox are led by... James McCann, with +2 DRS in limited playing time. Meanwhile, four others are at -4 DRS or worse. Defensive metrics are very unstable, of course, and it takes a much larger sample size to take them at their word, but this is not a good look for the Sox so far.

Game times, TV listings, streaming info, etc.

Game 1: Friday, Apr. 26, 8:10 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, Apr. 27, 7:10 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2:10 p.m.
Venue: Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago, Ill.
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 95 1 10 88
Yoan Moncada 3B 102 6 18 152
Jose Abreu 1B 103 4 19 100
Yonder Alonso DH 91 3 10 75
Eloy Jimenez LF 84 3 8 77
Tim Anderson SS 84 4 14 167
Welington Castillo C 56 2 6 92
Ryan Cordell RF 29 2 5 149
Yolmer Sanchez 2B 68 0 2 61

There isn’t a ton we can say here after previewing this lineup just a week ago, other than noting that several of their everyday players have seen their numbers drop off over the past eight days. This is strange, however, because the White Sox scored 33 runs in the six games they have played since that article was published, including a pair of seven-spots against a Tigers pitching staff that has been playing well in 2019.

We’re not talking slight drop-offs, either. Here’s where some big names were (in wRC+) at this time last week.

Tim Anderson: 213
Yoan Moncada: 176
Yonder Alonso: 108
Leury Garcia: 105

Some of this may be explained by the hitting environment. The Sox played a three-game series in Baltimore this week, a historically hitter-friendly venue — though one that didn’t play that way in 2018. Opponent adjustments may also be in play, as the Orioles are hella bad this year.

Other updates include the emergence of something called a Ryan Cordell and another note on a slightly more important outfielder. Left fielder Eloy Jimenez has not played since these two teams squared off in Detroit after being placed on the bereavement list this week. He is eligible to miss up to seven games, and it remains to be seen if he will be available this weekend (he has missed three so far). If Jimenez is not around, expect Adam Engel to move into the lineup in center field, with Leury Garcia sliding over to left. Engel, a right-handed batter, is getting most of his starts against left-handed pitchers this year.

Pitching matchups

Game 1: LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 2.70 ERA) vs. LHP Carlos Rodon (3-2, 2.89 ERA)

Carlos Rodon gave up his first home run of the 2019 season against the Tigers last weekend, and issued a few walks to boot, but otherwise looked like a budding front-of-the-rotation starter in an easy 7-3 win for the White Sox. He has 35 strikeouts through 28 innings this year, and his elevated walk rate is largely due to just one bad start in which he issued nearly half (5) of his current year-long walk total (12).

Game 2: LHP Ryan Carpenter (0-3, 6.30 ERA) vs. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (1-3, 7.46 ERA)

We usually spend this paragraph talking about the opposing pitcher, but Tigers fans have a decent grasp on who Reynaldo Lopez is at this point. He pitches well against them — he has a 3.20 ERA in eight career starts against the Tigers — but is still trying to find his way against everyone else. Expect a carbon copy of what he did last Sunday again this weekend.

Instead, let’s talk about why Ryan Carpenter will be starting this game. The Tigers need an extra starter after having to use both Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull on Tuesday. Neither pitcher will be used on short rest at this point in the year, and for good reason. So, a spot starter it is. Carpenter is one of two starters currently on the 40-man roster not already in the majors or on the injured list, so he is the easy call-up for Saturday, even if others (cough, Beau Burrows) have better numbers down in Triple-A. Burrows will almost surely make his MLB debut this year, but it won’t be this weekend.

And while the organization hasn’t announced Carpenter as the starter, the Mud Hens skipped his scheduled start on Thursday, all but guaranteeing he will get the ball on Saturday.

Game 3: LHP Matthew Boyd (2-1, 3.16 ERA) vs. LHP Manny Bañuelos (1-0, 2.51 ERA)

Poor Lucas Giolito. After enjoying a somewhat promising start to the season that saw him strike out 23 batters in his first 18 23 innings (just don’t look at the ERA), he suffered a hamstring strain in his last outing against the Kansas City Royals, and was placed on the injured list. It doesn’t sound like he will be out long, but it is still an unfortunate blow for Giolito, who was arguably the worst full-time starting pitcher in baseball last season.

In Giolito’s place is lefthander Manny Bañuelos, a one-time New York Yankees prospect that has drawn plenty of revisionist praise from the New York media after Bañuelos’ start on Monday. He threw four scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles, with four strikeouts to one walk. The 28-year-old is only making his second foray into major league duty, and will probably be on some sort of pitch count, so don’t expect him to stick around too long in this one — even if he is cruising through the Tigers lineup.

What we’re rooting for: a better series finish

The Tigers were flying high after a doubleheader sweep of the Red Sox on Tuesday, moving up to just 1 12 games away from first place in the AL Central. They had the Sox on the ropes, to a certain extent, with Boston hovering seven games back in their own division race. While pushing across another win or two would not have put the Tigers into the playoffs — or sent Boston packing from them — by any means, it would have been a nice way to head into the weekend and the back half of their road trip.

Instead, the Tigers were undone by the same pitching they have relied upon so heavily this season. Their 12-12 start is mostly smoke and mirrors so far — they are out-performing their pythagorean expected record by two wins already and have been outscored by 19 runs this season — but these losses are still disappointing to witness. If the Tigers can take two of three from the Sox this weekend, they can continue to put pressure on the teams above them in the AL Central, and set themselves up for a possible winning road trip as they head to Philadelphia next week.