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Detroit at Chicago Preview: Spencer Turnbull looks to even the series on Friday night

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This is the one pitching matchup the Tigers win on paper.

MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Well we knew this would be difficult. The AL Central leading Chicago White Sox are a bit of a juggernaut these days, and the Tigers came into this four-game set lined up against a tough set of starting pitchers. They got a pretty good dose last night from Lance Lynn, though Casey Mize held his own reasonably well. Tonight, the pitching matchup is on their side for the only time in the series. And so it would behoove them to win.

The question with Spencer Turnbull these days, is whether his no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners back on May 18th represented anything, or whether it was just a great night for a pitcher who has long had the stuff to pull that off. So far, results lean toward the latter argument, unfortunately. Since that night, Turnbull has started twice, surrendering three runs in a shaky six inning performance against Cleveland, and then bouncing back with a better performance against the New York Yankees last time out with just one earned run allowed, despite some poor command.

Still, we know what Turnbull is capable of now. It’s just a question of whether he struggles with his mechanics and command or not. In most starts, there is still a stretch of wildness, but he does seem to be learning to self correct, while pitching coach Chris Fetter presumably is learning the keys to get him back on track when Turnbull can’t do it on his own.

The Chicago White Sox lineup is a good one, but the loss of hitters like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert this season leaves them with enough soft spots in the lineup that the better version of Turnbull should have little trouble. Hopefully that’s the one that shows up.

Detroit Tigers (23-33) at Chicago White Sox (34-22)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (4-2, 2.93 ERA) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (4-1, 4.53 ERA)

Game 57 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Turnbull 46.0 21.4 6.4 2.79 1.4
Keuchel 59.2 12.0 7.2 4.88 0.2

We’re now six years removed from Dallas Keuchel’s brief stretch of excellence which led to a surprising 2015 AL Cy Young award with the Houston Astros. The soft-tossing lefty has never been much of a strikeout artist. He’s succeeded by keeping the ball on the ground, limiting home runs and walks, and forcing teams to string together hits to score. Things are little changed this season.

Keuchel is getting almost 60 percent ground balls in 2021, and holds a microscopic 12 percent strikeout rate, so the Tigers are not going to have trouble putting the ball in play with regularity. May the BABIP gods be with them.

Keuchel has continued to use his high 80’s sinker less and less as the years have gone on. He now throws his changeup 32.4 percent of the time, compared to 40 percent fastballs. Because the changeup averages just 79.3 mph, there is still solid velocity separation between the two, and when his command is sharp, as it typically is, he still manages to get a lot of weak contact on the ground. However, in his last outing against the Baltimore Orioles, Keuchel did allow three home runs. On a warm night in Chicago, let’s hope he has a similar, though admittedly rare by his standards, issue.

Key Matchup: Tigers vs. the White Sox defense

If the White Sox win this one, it’s not going to be because of Keuchel. His job is just to get ground balls and not give up homers or walks. The Sox defense will be doing most of the work. By defensive runs saved, that defense is not very good. So the Tigers’ key will be to run the bases aggressively, beat out some hits, steal a few bases, and try to play some old school baseball to put up runs—with the addition of Derek Hill tonight as a new weapon on the bases—while we see whether we get great Turnbull, or just solid Turnbull. With matchups against Carlos Rodon and Lucas Giolito this weekend, this is a must win game if they want to earn a split in this series.