Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox
Rick Porcello vs. Chris Sale
After dropping the first two games of the series (due in large part to simply being out-pitched by the Sox staff), the Tigers looked to grab a win in the series. Their hopes rested on the shoulders of Rick Porcello, who was looking to continue his great season-opening start with a repeat performance. Opposing him was Chris Sale, who is a young reliever converted to the starting rotation this season. Like Porcello, Sale started his season on a high note, and was looking to continue his own success as a starting pitcher.
1. Pitching Recap – Tigers
Rick Porcello began the game on a high note with a clean first inning, before giving up a hit in the second. He remained locked in for the entirety of the game, giving up a hit in the fourth, and one in the fifth, but cruising through the third, sixth, seventh without a blemish. A home run and single in the eighth would finally drive Porcello from the game, and force the Tigers to go to the bullpen. Joaquin Benoit would come in for his eighth inning role, needing only one out to send the game to the ninth inning. Performing his task without issue, Benoit gave way to Jose Valverde in the ninth inning. Valverde has not been great thus far this year, and gave up two hits and a run (as well as a third hit) before getting all three outs in the inning, and chalking up a win for the Tigers.
a. Pitcher Final Lines
Porcello: 7 2/3 IP; 5 H; 1 ER; 4 K; 0 BB
Benoit: 1/3 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 1 BB
Valverde: 1 IP; 3 H; 1 ER; 1 K; 0 BB
b. Pitching Final Thoughts – Tigers
Porcello has been unbelievable so far this season. Obviously, he’s going to have a hiccup or two over the next six months. But if he keeps up anything close to what he’s done in these two starts, he could be in the Cy Young conversation come August. Now, I know that’s a long way away, and very unlikely as of right now. But you never know. At the very least, I have very high hopes for Rick this year as a pitcher. I think he’s ready to turn that corner and become the pitcher that everyone thought he would be when he was drafted. There’s only one thing standing in his way, it would seem: Jim Leyland. I know that Rick is still young. By all odds, he should only be a rookie whose pitch count is monitored diligently all season.
But this is his fourth major league season. Yes, he has yet to prove that he’s a staff ace like Verlander or even Fister. But when is management going to give the kid a chance to show what he’s got. A true top-tier pitcher can remain calm under pressure in the latest innings, raise their game to a new level, and make the pitches that count to help their teams. Porcello’s pitch count was in amazing shape today, with only 66 pitches thrown through six innings of work. He left the game in the eighth with 99. Obviously, he threw more than you’d like to see in the seventh and eighth, but start working his arm a little bit more. With a man on first and two outs in the eighth, that’s not the time to pull him for a situational man. Trust him to throw 5-10 more pitches and be given the chance to correct his own mistakes. Both Verlander and Fister would be trusted with that responsibility without question. Give Porcello the same chance, so he can show everyone just what kind of pitcher he truly is.
Benoit has thus far done his job admirably this season. He has a real niche as a setup man, and it’s nice to know that the Tigers have him for at least one more season. Valverde, on the other hand, has begun to show his fallibility in the early parts of this season. He’ll need to do a bit more to get back on track for the rest of the season, but if he can just get back on track in save situations, we’ll all be fine. It’s good to remember that he has never been great in non-save situations. Even though he did pretty good this afternoon, he still gave up three hits and a run in a non-save situation. That’s typical Valverde. All that matters is that he stays as perfect as possible when those save opportunities show themselves. When it was all said and done, it was a pretty good outing by the Tigers’ staff today, keeping most of the bullpen rested. With any luck, the same will be true tomorrow when Verlander pitches, making sure that the long relief pitchers are ready to go, just in case Drew Smyly or Max Scherzer suffer any sort of setbacks Tuesday or Wednesday.
2. Pitching Recap – White Sox
Chris Sale was looking to build on a phenomenal season-opening start of his own, where he went 6 2/3 scoreless innings. The Tigers hadn’t had much success against him out of the bullpen, but were hoping that the more looks they got in a game, the better their chances. That would prove to be mostly untrue. A double in the second inning and a solo home run in the third would be the only run given up off hits for Sale. However, a two doubles and a wild pitch in the fifth, and a double and wild pitch in the sixth would add two more runs to Sale’s final line.
Nate Jones took over for Sale in the sixth inning, and looked to be in trouble after a single, two walks, and a wild pitch let another run score with the bases loaded. But Jones bounced back after that, cruising through the seventh, before turning things over to Zach Stewart in eighth. With no damage, Stewart was relieved by the backend of the bullpen. Will Ohman would give up back-to-back singles, and depart in the hope that Addison Reed could put the cap on the inning. Reed would give up two more singles before finishing off the inning.
a. Pitcher Final Lines
Sale: 5 IP; 5 H; 3 ER; 5 K; 2 BB
Jones: 2 IP; 1H; 0 ER; 0 K; 2 BB
Stewart: 1 IP; 0 H; 0 ER; 1 K; 0 BB
Ohman: 1/3 IP; 2 H; 2 ER; 0 K; 0 BB
Reed: 2/3 IP; 2 H; 0 ER; 2 K 0 BB
b. Pitching Final Thoughts – White Sox
Let’s start with Chris Sale. When it was all said and done, he certainly didn’t have a bad day. Granted, he was only able to last five innings, which is definitely a drop off from his last start. But that had very little to do with the way he was pitching. It’s not like he gave up six earned runs in five innings, and could barely hold it together for an entire inning. The problem came from the fact that the Tigers’ hitters just had really good at-bats. After a 10-pitch first inning, the opposing hitters managed to string together at-bats that drove Sale’s pitch count up near 40 by the end of the second inning. That’s not going to keep a pitcher in a game for long. Sale should see this start more as a learning experience than a loss. He just needs to figure out a way to deliver that final blow to opposing hitters so his pitch count stays down. And when he figures it out, he should teach it to Verlander and Scherzer. Seriously.
Nate Jones was very impressive for his two innings today. Especially considering that he quieted down the bases-loaded rumblings in the sixth. Granted, he did give up the hit, two walks, and wild pitch that ultimately drove in the Tigers’ third run (even if it was charged to Sale). But the bases were still loaded after that run went in. So to get out of that with only minimal damage is quite impressive. That’s the mark of a great situational reliever. Hopefully he continues to have a good season, because with more outings like that, he’ll definitely have a bright future ahead of him.
Stewart, Ohman, and Reed did all right, even though Ohman ultimately gave up two more runs late. It could have been a markedly different ninth inning, had Valverde been in with only a 3-2 lead and one out. (Of course, it was the singles that Reed gave up that drove in the runs attributed to Ohman.) It was an admirable attempt, but unfortunately they couldn’t nail down the inning to give the White Sox’s offense a chance to get back into it.
3. Hitting Recap – Tigers
The Tigers’ bats perked up a bit today, as the team unloaded ten hits and five runs on the White Sox’s pitching staff. Delmon Young got things started in the second with a double, and a Raburn walk followed shortly. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cash in until the following inning, when Gerald Laird hit a solo home run off of Chris Sale. Jhonny Peralta and Gerald Laird would both double in the fifth, and a walk to Austin Jackson would load the bases. A wild pitch scored Peralta, and a second wild pitch moved up both of the runners before the bleeding stopped. The sixth inning brought a double from Prince Fielder, a single from Young, and walks to Raburn and Peralta. Another wild pitch in the inning would score Fielder, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead. The bats then went quiet until the ninth, where singles by Laird, Jackson, Santiago, and Fielder (RsBI for Santiago and Fielder) would give the Tigers a 5-1 lead going into the last half inning of the game, and ultimately a 5-2 win.
a. Hitting Final Thoughts – Tigers
Austin Jackson has always been touted for his defensive capabilities in the outfield. Everything that Curtis Granderson was in centerfield for the Tigers, Austin Jackson is that and more. It’s been offensive woes the last two seasons that have really kept him from breaking out (and probably winning one award or another). He’s been a strikeout machine. He had a pretty good average his rookie year, but hasn’t been getting on base enough to make the most of his speed and catalyst capabilities for the offense. That is really looking like it’s about to change this year. Jackson is starting the season with a statement: He is not the same hitter he was last year. Through nine games, he has a .412 average, a home run, a stolen base, and only ten strikeouts. Now, ten may still be a bit many (a rate of ten strikeouts every nine games would still give him 180 strikeouts by season’s end). But it’s almost like he either strikes out, or gets a hit. He’s already had three games this season in which he’s logged three hits or more. Not a lot of guys can say that, and if he keeps that up at any sort of similar pace, I think everyone in Detroit will be able to overlook his strikeouts, no matter how many he racks up.
It’s that type of hitting approach that has led to a better offense overall thus far. When Jackson leads off the game, his being on base all but guarantees that both Cabrera and Fielder will hit in that inning. I don’t think a pitcher wants to worry about working his way through both of those guys in the same inning – especially not when there are players on the base paths. Jackson is doing his job better than any time in the last two years, and hopefully that’s all he keeps doing for the remainder of the season.
It was good for Delmon Young and Gerald Laird to pick up some of the slack today, especially since Miguel Cabrera came to Chicago and simply forgot how to hit a baseball. It’s not often you’ll see him go 0-18. Whether it was good pitching by the White Sox, the illness that’s been looming in the Tigers’ clubhouse, or some combination of factors, the big guy just hasn’t been himself. With any luck, he’ll be able to figure it out again in Kansas City before coming home and dazzling the home crowd. Whatever happens, it was good to see some life in the bats again. Hopefully this team never has to worry this season about going more than a couple games of slump.
4. Hitting Recap – White Sox
The White Sox ultimately put up a fair amount of hits today, but couldn’t convert any of them into runs until the eighth inning. Paul Konerko had a double in the second inning, Adam Dunn had a double in the fourth, and Alexi Ramirez had a single in the fifth. A Dayan Viciedo home run in the eighth would amount for the only scoring to mar Rick Porcello’s day. Eduardo Escobar added a single in the eighth, but nothing came of it. A Dunn double in the ninth would be converted into an RBI by a single from A.J. Pierzynski. Alexi Ramirez would add another single to his day, but with no more runs, the White Sox ultimately fell 5-2.
a. Hitting Final Thoughts – White Sox
After a couple games of really putting things together, the White Sox just couldn’t string together enough hits to win the game. It didn’t help their cause much that Rick Porcello had a monster of a day, and limited them to only three hits through the first seven innings. What the White Sox really proved during the last three games is that they’re going to be much more of a threat in the A.L. Central than anyone seems to give them credit for. Yes, as a whole they’re probably not going to have much success (unless they add some pieces before the trade deadline). But this team can certainly put it all together for bursts of time. Before today they had won four games in a row. That has the dangerous makings of a spoiler team come September. The Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Angels, and Rangers should take notice, because it could only be a matter of time before the White Sox make life very difficult for one of them.
5. Fielding Recap
The stellar defensive plays today came from the Tigers, with Miguel Cabrera doing his absolute best to silence all those who thought defense would take a hit by moving him to third base. I would imagine that those who doubted his ability at third base also expected him to be responsible for at least one error per game all season long. He was skittish on one ground ball during opening weekend (mostly because he was still a little tender about the last ground ball he’d taken off his face), but since then he’s made every single play that’s come his way. Including some grabs that people were so sure only Brandon Inge could make. In today’s game alone he had a diving grab in the eighth that took away a double from the White Sox; a pick in the fourth that kept Dunn’s double from happening with a runner on base; and a bare hand grab on a slow roller in the second inning that only true third basemen make. Say all you want about his defensive ability over there, but I think he’s made his point.
The other fantastic defensive play occurred in the fourth inning, when Adam Dunn got caught in no-man’s land after his double. Paul Konerko hit a slow arch over the head of Jhonny Peralta…which Peralta was able to grab and toss back to second to double up Dunn who was on his way to third base. Again, for a team that’s been predicted to have as many errors as they do home runs this season, the infield has been pretty damn great through the first nine.
6. Tigers vs. White Sox – Final Thoughts
It was good to see the little mini-slump end today. The last thing the Tigers need is for Chicago to become a major player in the division this early in the season. A solid trip to Kansas City could help put a little distance between the top and bottom of the division and give Detroit a little breathing room going into the next homestand (which will be played mostly against the A.L. West). Then again, it’s not like a team actually needs to win their division in order to win their division. It’s an odd system in MLB, because conceivably a team could lose every game played against their division, and still win the division title. There’s not even a tiebreaker system (other than the one-game playoff) set up in the event that the divisions end up with two winners. At least in other sports you have to do better than your particular division, and in the event that you wind up with two teams at the top of a division, the head-to-head matchups from the season are the way to break the tie. A team could be utterly destroyed by its own division, win elsewhere, end up in a one-game playoff, and ultimately make it to the playoffs. It’s certainly an odd system that’s in place. Maybe that’ll be the next thing that the suits at the top will rework. Anyway, a good win for the Tigers today, and hopefully it can roll into K.C. this week.