Forgive us this current analogy, but the AL Central race has been about as slow-moving over the past month as Hurricane Isaac was off of the Gulf Coast earlier this week. With the White Sox and Tigers apparently in suspended animation, perhaps this weekend’s set at Comerica Park will lend a bit more definition to a division race that has been mostly on hold since the All-Star break.
Indeed, the Central turned into a two-team race in July when Cleveland dropped off the pace, leaving the Chisox and Tigers to battle each other. Both also remain involved as possible American League wild card entrants as the calendar turns to September.
Beginning with this weekend’s game, Chicago and Detroit will meet seven times over the last five weeks of the season. The return engagement takes place at The Cell in mid-September when the Tigers invade the South Side for a critical four-game set commencing on September 10.
But it’s showdown time on Sunday night in Motown when the Pale Hose send fireballer Chris Sale to the mound to face Detroit’s reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. First pitch at Comerica Park will be at 8:05 p.m. (ET) with the usual Sunday Night Baseball announcing crew of Dan Shulman, Terry Francona and Orel Hershier on hand for the ESPN2 telecast.
For Detroit, it was a mostly-maddening August as it could not mount a sufficient charge to overtake the Chisox, who provided the Tigers with several opportunities to close the gap atop the division. Chicago entered this weekend’s set holding a three-game edge in the Central, which in fact should come as a relief to Detroit after it was swept in a midweek three-game set at lowly Kansas City while the White Sox lost three of four at Baltimore. Which was merely another blown opportunity for the Tigers to make up some much-needed ground.
Perhaps hooking the Pale Hose at Comerica Park is the required tonic for Jim Leyland’s crew. Entering the weekend series, Detroit had won four straight and nine of the last 10 at home against Chicago, which has been held to 15 runs total when losing five of its last six at Comerica.
Playing away from friendly US Cellular Field has become an issue for the White Sox, who entered this weekend having lost six of their last seven on the road and batting just .212 in the process during that stretch. And while big 1B Adam Dunn lead the majors with 38 homers, his production had tailed off entering this series, just 5-for-32 (.152 BA) with two homers in his last nine games after the set in Baltimore concluded last Thursday.
The White Sox will turn tonight to flame-throwing lefty Chris Sale, whose emergence as a feared component in the rotation has been one of the key developments in Chicago’s ascent to the top of the Central. A pleasant surprise all season long for skipper Robin Venture and pitching guru Don Cooper, Sale has nonetheless wobbled a bit in recent outings that have not quite resembled his dominant efforts from earlier in the season.
The Chisox, who had won eight of Sale’s 10 starts through mid-July, have won only four of his last seven turns in the rotation since July 21. Moreover, Sale’s recent efforts on the road have been extremely shaky, with an ERA of 6.75 his last four starts away from The Cell, Chicago losing three of those games. One of those starts was July 21 at Comerica, when Sale was hit hard, allowing five runs and seven hits while walking four in seven innings of work in a 7-1 Chicago loss.
Sale also lost vs. the Tigers on April 15 at The Cell when allowing three runs and five hits over five innings in an eventual 5-2 defeat. Thus, in two starts this season vs. Detroit, Sale is an unimpressive 0-2 with a puffy ERA of 6.00.
Detroit counterpart Verlander, however, has not been that sharp lately, either, especially in his most-recent outing last Tuesday at Kansas City when allowing the Royals to batter him for eight runs and 12 hits over just 5 2/3 IP in an eventual 9-8 Tigers loss. Verlander has not flashed his usual dominance since a pair of early August starts; including the loss this past Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium, his ERA over the last three outings is an un-Verlander-like 5.75.
Verlander has fared decently in his career vs. the White Sox but hasn’t dominated them, either, recording a 13-10 mark and 4.05 ERA in 26 career starts. He did, however, keep Chicago in check in the one time he faced the Chisox earlier this season, limiting them to just two runs and four hits over eight innings of work in a 4-2 Detroit win at Comerica back on July 20.