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White Sox Fri Aug 31 2012
So... just who are the 2012 White Sox?
The White Sox have been enigmatic, at best, against the best teams in the American League over the second half of this season. They can sweep New York fairly easily, but then look listless against Kansas City. They can take two of three from playoff hopeful teams like Oakland, Los Angeles and Texas, but then wilt when facing Boston (when they were good) and Detroit. They'll go on a modest win streak, and subsequently negate it by losing just as many games in a row.
This weekend will be a test for the Sox, going into the Motor City to play a three-game set with the Tigers. Chicago leads Detroit by three games in the AL Central, yet the Tigers have been playing some pretty good ball lately, with a 30-18 record since Independence Day. Those guys come into this series hot and ready to--
But wait! They have been as mysterious as the White Sox. Look at how many games they've been behind the Sox over the course of the second half. They've been hovering around two games back of Chicago for the last month. And, they just got swept by the Royals. Detroit can be just as wacky as Chicago. With the Sox playing such streaky baseball lately, it seems that the Tigers are synced up to the Sox's cycles.
With the division lead grabs this weekend, here's what both the Tigers and the Sox need to watch for.
The Tigers need to look out for... Jake Peavy, Francisco Liriano and Chris Sale.
That's who the Sox are pitching against the Tigers. Actually, this was a result of an injury: When Gavin Floyd was put on the DL this week, Chicago called up Dylan Axelrod, and pushed back a Peavy start. Now the Sox will have their three biggest big-game pitchers going for them in their three biggest games of the season, so far. Funny how things fall into place.
Though Peavy and Sale's first go-round in Detroit this half - back in late July when Chicago lost all three game - wasn't pretty, it will be interesting to watch how they respond. They are two of the most competitive ballplayers on the planet, and they must want some vengeance.
... but Detroit also needs to keep and eye on... Dewayne Wise.
We can assume that the Tigers' starters this weekend, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, will be geared up to not let Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, AJ Pierzynski and Alex Rios beat them. That's a pretty fair guess.
It will be up to the other guys on the team to chip in. One player that has a good chance to do that? Dewayne Wise, who likes Comerica Park. He is hitting .343 with a .914 OPS in 36 career plate appearances at the Tigers' ballpark. Additionally, Wise has hit Verlander pretty well over the years, going 6-for-15 with two doubles and a triple.
Wise has been cold lately - 5-for-29 in the last seven games with no extra base hits, and he struck out three times in Thursday's game in Baltimore - but if I had to bet, I say he will be a factor in the next three games if he stays in the lineup.
The Sox need to look out for... Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Well this is a no-brainer. Each have hit over .325 during the second half of this season, Cabrera has smashed 14 home runs to Fielder's eight over the same span, and the duo has tore it up at home in 2012.
And you're not going to believe this, but the Tigers are successful when their three-four hitters play well. Since July 1, Detroit is 11-3 in games when Cabrera hits a home run, and 9-1 when Fielder hits one. Over the last two months, the Tigers are 15-7 in games when Cabrera has at least two hits (14-5 when Fielder does the same) and 8-3 when Cabrera has two-plus RBIs in a contest (10-2 with Prince). Shutting down the Cabrera and Fielder will be the Sox's gameplan.
... but Chicago also needs to keep and eye on... Doug Fister.
Scherzer and Verlander will most likely get the majority of the pitching attention this weekend, and it makes sense: Both guys are dominant strikeout pitchers, one-two in the AL in total strikeouts and towards the top of the list in K/9, power-finesse ratio, defense-independent ERA, and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Doug Fister has quietly been solid in the rotation over the second half, though. Since the break, he has only given up three runs in a game twice (including getting shelled against Baltimore over the weekend). It looks like he has been throwing his curveball more often than he did early in the season, and he gets his share of strikeouts and ground outs. Don't sleep on the guy Friday night.
And one last thing...
The race for the division crown is far from over. (Note: I keep mentioning the division race and not the wild card race because I'm sure no one with the Sox is content with playing 162 games for a do-or-die one-game playoff, followed by a daunting home-field disadvantage. The winning the division should be the goal.)
Anyway, the two teams will play four more head-to-head games in Chicago in a little over a week. Also, much ado has been made about the Tigers finishing the season with 13-straight games against the Twins and Royals. While that is true, their last six games are on the road, and they also play Oakland and Los Angeles in September.
Chicago plays Los Angeles and Tampa Bay next month, but they get to play the Royals and Twins 12 more times, and they get a good dose of the weak Cleveland Indians towards the end of their season - six games against them over their last 10. The Indians have an AL-worst minus-152 run differential, and they are 5-26 over their last 31 games.
As far as the homestretch schedules are concerned, I'd say the Sox and Tigers have an equal difficulty. May the better team win.