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Tigers vs. White Sox preview: Tarik Skubal welcomes the AL Central leaders to town

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It’s going to be tough, but winning this series would feel great.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Just last weekend, the Tigers went down 1-3 to the White Sox in a four game set in Chicago. Now, they’ll welcome the AL Central leaders into Comerica Park looking to return the favor. The Tigers have been playing reasonably good ball for almost six weeks now, but this is still going to be a tough task. Perhaps their best chance to win, considering a potential bullpen game again on Sunday, comes Friday night with Tarik Skubal on the mound against Lucas Giolito, who surrendered three home runs to the Tigers in his last outing.

In our preview of Casey Mize’s start against the Seattle Mariners back on Wednesday, we mentioned that the young right-hander has outperformed his peripherals. For Skubal, his results have been more in line with his peripheral numbers. However, things have certainly taken a massive swing to the positive for him since the beginning of May. Since May 1st, Skubal holds a 3.09 ERA and a 3.27 FIP, arguing that he’s largely deserved his good results of late.

In that timespan, Skubal has been one of the better pitchers in the game, despite some ongoing issues with the long ball. Since May 1st, Skubal holds an eye-popping 36.8 strikeout percentage compared to an 8.8 percent walk rate. He’s 35th among starters in fWAR in that span, 27th in FIP and 33rd in ERA. And things have trended better and better as he’s gone along. Since May 1st, Skubal is 17th in swinging strike rate, 18th in combined called and swinging strike rate. Let’s just say he’s racking up the strikeouts like they’re free.

The home runs remain a little bit of a problem, but it’s notable that things have been a lot worse for Skubal on the road than at home. Still, more than anything it’s Skubal’s inefficiency that holds him back from pushing up into the top tier of starters. With a taxed bullpen, it would really help if he could stretch out to six or seven effective innings tonight, but against a lineup with several tough right-handed hitters, that may be a tall task.

Another point of interest tonight will be to see how many sinkers and curveballs Skubal throws. The curve has really started to become a weapon for him now, playing well off the riding fastballs he prefers to pepper at the top of the zone. And in his last few starts he’s even broken out his rarely seen sinker to positive effect once hitters are keyed to try and climb the ladder to barrel his fourseamer. The evolution of Tarik Skubal is ongoing, and we’re feeling fairly confident the Tigers are going to have one of the better lefties in the game by the time this season ends.

Detroit Tigers (26-36) vs. Chicago White Sox (38-24)

Time/Place: 7:10 pm, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: South Side Sox
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (3-7, 4.33 ERA) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (5-5, 3.88 ERA)

Game 63 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Skubal 54.0 5.32 28.3 10.8 2.17 0.1
Giolito 69.2 4.15 30.4 8.4 1.68 1.1

As for Lucas Giolito, this season isn’t going according to plan. After excellent campaigns in 2019-2020, Giolito is having a pretty pedestrian year by his standards. He struggled in April, rebounded in May, and then was clobbered by our very own Tigers last Saturday, surrendering three home runs in a loss. Eric Haase had two of them, while Miguel Cabrera hit number 492 of his illustrious career in that game as well.

Giolito’s extremely deceptive riding changeup continues to be a very effective pitch for him, but the fastball and slider are both getting hit much harder than the past two seasons. It wouldn’t shock me to see A.J. Hinch leave most of his right-handed hitters in the lineup here. Most of the home runs against him this season have come from right-handed hitters, and obviously Haase and Cabrera’s performance last weekend factor heavily in that. With a fly ball pitcher like Skubal on the mound, an outfield of Grossman, Baddoo, and Cameron wouldn’t surprise me, particularly with Nomar Mazara completely lost at the plate.

Key Matchup: Tarik Skubal vs. his pitch count

Skubal has done a much better job course correcting with his command gets out of whack of late. However, we still haven’t seen the kind of aggressive strike-throwing efficiency that would be preferable. A strikeout artist like this certainly shouldn’t be “pitching to contact” but if Skubal can cut down the waste pitches tonight and give his team at least six innings, they’ll be a lot more likely to pull this one out. Letting this White Sox lineup see multiple fringy relievers like Jiménez, Norris, Lange, and Foley will probably make this a long night for the good guys.