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Chicago at Detroit Preview: Can the Tigers take the rubber match from the Sox?

The series is knotted at one game apiece after the ChiSox took game two on Saturday.

Detroit Tigers v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

After an exhilarating finish for the Detroit Tigers on Friday to start the season, things came crashing back to earth on Saturday as the Chicago White Sox evened the opening series with a 5-2 win. Casey Mize was simply not sharp in his 2022 debut and the good guys were unable to catch up before they ran out of innings. And so it goes.

Sunday offers another opportunity to take the series but it will not be easy. Both teams will send one of their young up-and-coming arms to the bump to face off in a battle of the 25-year-olds. Let us take a look at how they match up.

Detroit Tigers (1-1) vs. Chicago White Sox (1-1)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup (2021): LHP Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.34 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Kopech (4-3, 3.50 ERA)

Game 3 Pitching Matchup (2021 Stats)

IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
149.1 25.9 7.4 5.09 0.7
69.1 36.1 8.4 2.97 1.7

Tarik Skubal is entering his third season in the big leagues after being taken in the ninth round of the 2018 MLB draft out of Seattle University. The hard-throwing lefty has managed to translate his skill set into major-league level strikeout pitching, averaging over a K per inning over his first two campaigns, but still has other aspects of his arsenal he needs to work on. He put up a stellar performance this spring to the tune of a 1-0 record over four starts with a 1.32 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP while striking out 21 in 13 23 innings.

Detroit’s young starter chooses from a palette of seven different pitches to get batters out, led off by his blazing four-seam fastball (94.3 mph) which he throws a plurality of the time at nearly 43%, along with a slider (86.5 mph), sinker (94.5 mph), changeup (82.1 mph), curveball (73.8 mph), splitter (85.1 mph) and cutter (94.2 mph), according to Baseball Savant. However, he only employed the latter two in 2021 at a 2.3% and 0.3% rate, respectively.

The pieces of the puzzle have not fit perfectly so far for Skubal in comparison to his peers, as exemplified by his 2021 MLB percentile ratings. His fastball velocity, strikeout percentage and walk percentage are all above average; the rest, not so much, landing in the bottom 10 in six different categories.

Baseball Savant

Michael Kopech will take the mound opposite Skubal to start his third major league campaign on Sunday as well. Originally a first-round selection by the Boston Red Sox with the 33rd pick straight out of high school in 2014, the right-hander came to the Windy City in the Chris Sale trade back in 2016. He struggled mightily in his 2018 debut, but after spending 2019 shelved with Tommy John surgery and sitting out the 2020 COVID season, he emerged with a vengeance last year, putting up sparkling traditional numbers albeit in only 69 13 innings — mostly in relief.

The Californian’s arsenal consists of a traditional mix of a white-hot four-seam fastball (97.3 mph), which he leans on a majority of the time at 64.4% usage, a slider (84.1 mph) which is by far his dominant secondary pitch at 29.6% usage, followed by a curveball (78.7 mph), and changeup (89.7 mph) which he uses sparingly at 3.5% and 2.6%, respectively, according to Baseball Savant. Unlike Skubal, Kopech has really tied his room together with his pitch-weaving skills, landing in the top-14 percentiles in eight different categories, peaking in the fastball spin (98th percentile) while strikeout rate and fastball velocity are right behind at 97th and 96th percentiles, respectively.

Key Matchup: Tigers bats vs. Kopech

Much like yesterday’s key matchup, today’s is dependent on Detroit’s bats making some noise against a very tough starting pitcher. The Motor City Kitties are not too familiar with Kopech, facing him just once last season in his final appearance in which he tossed three innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts while failing to figure in the losing decision. He also faced the Tigers in two of his four appearances in 2018, earning his first career win on August 26 thanks to a six-inning outing in which he struck out four while allowing just a hit and no runs; the second meeting on September 5 did not go so well, as the Tigers saddled him with his first career loss after surrendering seven runs on nine hits in 3 13 innings, including four dingers, while striking out six.