By Kyle Soppe
Setting: These 2 AL Central rivals meet up in Detroit, starting on Friday, for a 3-game series to start the second half of the 2011 MLB season. The Tigers (49-43) currently lead the division over the upstart Indians (.5 games back), followed by these White Sox (5 games back). They have met 6 times this year, with the Tigers taking 5 of them, including a 3-game sweep back in April when the teams last played in Detroit.
Plot: In a division that is routinely up in the air come September, every series is crucial. Playoff spots are limited in the AL, and it seems likely that the AL Central will only have its winner advance to postseason play. The Tigers have posted an above average record (27-19) at home, while the Sox have actually had more success on the road than US Cellular in Chicago. All Star Justin Verlander will be given the ball on Friday, giving the Tigers a tremendous edge out of the gates. The flame throwing righty has delivered everything you expect from an ace: a microscopic 2.15 era, 12 victories, and a near 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Another interesting stat that speaks to the confidence of Verlander is that he is yet to issue an intentional walk. He is willing to challenge any batter in any situation, believing that his best pitch can get anybody out. Surprisingly enough, it is not the Tiger pitching that has been its strong suit (other than Verlander). As a team, they rank in the bottom 5 in team era at 4.27. On the flip side, their team batting average sits at .264, which is good enough for 5th in all of baseball. They are paced by stud first baseball Miguel Cabrera and the 2 headed catching monster of Alex Avila and Victor Martinez. Brandon Boesch is another name to watch, as the left fielder has hammered 12 homers in limited action. After Verlander starts on Frday, The Tigers will go with youth followed by experience when it comes to pitching. Max Scherzer, who has been a bit inconsistent this season, will bring his deceiving 10-4 record to Comerica on Saturday. Brad Penny, a contact pitcher who may be in trouble against the free swinging the Southsiders from Chicago.
The White Sox are a team that traditionally relies on swinging hard and hoping they make enough contact to score some runs. Their pitching staff lacks the big names, but the numbers don’t lie, they have been effective. They rank in the top half of the MLB with a 3.86 era and rarely beat themselves with walks. The Sox staff strikes out roughly 2.5 batters for every walk issued, a number that compares favorably with “pitching rich” teams such as the A’s and Giants. All Stars Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko highlight the power oriented lineup, although it may be Adam Dunn who will be most responsible for a big second half. The slugger struggled mightily in his first 270 at bats with his new club, and the sooner he can put that behind him, the better this lineup will be. If you are one to trust the back of the baseball card, Dunn is due for a HUGE second half, and could prove instrumental in catching the Tigers.
Gavin Floyd gets the ball in game 1 and looks to snap out of a funk. He hasn’t recorded a victory in his last 6 starts, with an 0-4 record to go with his 6.14 era. Edwin Jackson opposes Scherzer on Saturday in a game in which I am putting the over/under for strikeouts at 16. Both pitchers throw hard and are good at putting batters away once they are ahead in the count. Look for a HR to be the difference in this game, as one of the many reckless swings figured to make contact. The inconsistent Jake Peavy will pitch the finale, and has a good chance to steal a game. The injury riddled Peavy should benefit from the rest he gained at the all star break and, when healthy, has the pitches to deliver a gem at any time. Lately control has been an issue, but if he can stay reasonably close, he will have a chance to succeed on Sunday.
Final Word: The Tigers hold a sizable lead in season OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), .746 compared to .704. Getting on base, and then taking advantage of opportunities is key, especially against the strikeout heavy pitchers in this series
Soppe Score: I’ve got the Tigers taking 2 out of the 3 games in this series. Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in the series, and maybe in the majors right now, and the Tiger bats simply are hotter at this moment. If the power bats from Chicago turn it on, I could see them maybe winning 2 next time they play, in roughly 10 days, but not this time. Verlander on extended rest and lack of dimensions from the White Sox offense makes this Detroit’s series to lose.