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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Spencer Turnbull returns to action

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After a strong first couple months, Turnbull has struggled lately.

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Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Depending on how lofty your standards are, one could argue that it has been nearly two months since we have seen a truly strong performance from Spencer Turnbull. Injuries have had an effect, of course — Turnbull has only made two major league starts since July 1, sandwiched by twin stints on the injured list — but some of the regression many predicted after Turnbull started off the year so hot seems to have set in.

Specifically, Turnbull has allowed a 6.86 ERA over the course of his last five starts. He has just one quality start in that span, and a second — a decent five-inning performance against Cleveland on June 22 — that might get some attention in the comments of this article. He has just 15 strikeouts to nine walks in those 21 innings, and has surrendered 27 hits; opponents have hit .325/.394/.542 against him during this stretch.

One could argue that familiarity has a lot to do with it. Turnbull faced division rivals in four of those five starts, and departed the lone non-AL Central game after just two innings. Dating back to last season, 12 of Turnbull’s 23 major league appearances have come against divisional foes.

Surprisingly, he still has yet to face the White Sox. Can Turnbull take advantage of the Chicago lineup in their first ever meeting?

Chicago White Sox (48-61) at Detroit Tigers (32-75)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Lucas Giolito (11-5, 3.39 ERA) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-9, 3.65 ERA)

Game 109 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Giolito 124.2 29.9 9.0 3.43 3.6
Turnbull 98.2 20.5 8.9 4.05 1.8

While the White Sox have missed out on the Spencer Turnbull fun so far, the Tigers also have yet to face a resurgent Lucas Giolito in 2019. I identified Giolito as a key to the White Sox season back in spring training, and he has done his part, producing a 3.39 ERA and 3.43 FIP in 124 23 innings so far. His 29.9 percent strikeout rate feels sustainable, as opponents are swinging and missing on 14.3 percent of the pitches he throws, while his control has been just good enough. He’s not part of the Cy Young conversation, but his 20.9 percent K-BB% ranks eighth in the American League.

The underlying reason for this improvement seems to be exactly what we (and others) identified heading into the season.

We can’t call 2019 a make-or-break season for Giolito. He is still only 24 years old, and the Sox are going to give him another year or two to make adjustments before cutting bait with the once-promising prospect. His fastball is ticking up again after he overhauled his deliver during the offseason, which could also help him rediscover that incredible curveball that made so many scouts drool when he was in the minors. He will need to sustain these changes over a full season, of course — The Athletic’s James Fegan noted that Giolito’s new delivery puts a lot of the onus to generate velocity on his lower half, which could lead to a second-half letdown.

Even the second-half swoon might be underway; Giolito has a 5.65 ERA since July 1, though that is entirely due to just two bad outings.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs

Yup, we’re back to this. The Tigers fared better than their usual standard last week, scoring 29 runs in their six games. They scored at least four runs on five different occasions, something they had previously only accomplished five times since the All-Star break.

While they won’t continue to average nearly five runs per game going forward, the Tigers could certainly use a bit of a boost. Newcomers Travis Demeritte and Jake Rogers have looked capable so far, while others like Niko Goodrum (.838 OPS since July 1) have started to heat up.

Prediction

Giolito turns in a gem and the White Sox take the opener.