White Sox’ problems with Detroit stunting standings, defending draft position

With the Justin Verlander trade as a catalyst and Brad Ausmus’ lame-duck status capping it off, the Detroit Tigers completed a stunning free-fall last year.

They were an ordinary below-average team as late as Aug. 4, winning six out of seven games to pull them up to 51-57, 8½ games back in the AL Central. Then they went 13-41 the rest of the way, shooting past the White Sox, Reds and Giants for the worst record in baseball and the first overall draft pick, which they used on Casey Mize.

History could repeat this year, because the Tigers have been stuck in a similar nosedive this season. After sweeping the White Sox in mid-June to pull within a game of .500 and just 2½ games back of Cleveland, they went winless for the rest of June … which was at that point just 18 days old.

The Tigers have had losing streaks of 11, six and six games over the last two months, during which they’re 14-32. They fired pitching coach Chris Bosio in the middle of that 11-gamer for what reports said were racial slurs at a clubhouse attendant. That shakeup hasn’t changed their pitching success in any material way — they already had an ERA that hovered around 4.40 with one of the league’s lowest strikeout rates, but also one of the league’s lowest walk rates, which is as Gardenhire as it gets.

Instead, the offense has dried up. The Tigers are averaged just 3.1 runs a game from the start of the 11-game skid to the start of this White Sox series, hitting just .218/.272/.330 with 33 homers over 45 games.

I wanted to wait one game into the White Sox series to write this. The Tigers on eight of their first nine games against the Sox this season, so Monday’s game would determine whether the tenor of this post was more “the Tigers sure suck” to “the White Sox still suck worse somehow.”

Sure enough, the Tigers rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to win in rather convincing fashion on Monday, 9-5. They’re now averaging 3.2 runs per game.

Before the season, I predicted the White Sox would end up at 71 wins, not because they’d have improved as a team in a detectable fashion, but because the AL Central was dying on the vine. The Tigers have instead adopted that strategy. They’re 7½ games up on the White Sox in the standings because they’re eight games up on the White Sox head-to-head. Here’s what the standings look like now:

  • Tigers: 50-69, 17.5 GB
  • White Sox: 42-76, 25 GB

And here’s what the standings would look like if the Sox managed to just split the season series with Detroit to date:

  • White Sox: 46-72, 21 GB
  • Tigers: 46-73, 21.5 GB

But that’s just theory. In practice, the Sox are on pace for 104 losses, while the Tigers are on track for 68 wins.

The question here is whether the Tigers are bad enough — or whether the Sox have enough reserve talent — to reverse the standings despite these head-to-head woes. The Tigers don’t have anybody like Carlos Rodon in their rotation now, especially with Michael Fulmer on the shelf with an oblique strain, and they don’t have anybody like Eloy Jimenez or Michael Kopech waiting in the wings in Triple-A.

It’s not unfathomable that the Tigers could slide past the White Sox again when the dust clears, and it’s one of the few things to watch over the rest of the season as long as Kopech and Jimenez aren’t around. Otherwise, it’s things like “Can the White Sox stop their double-digit strikeout streak?” That’s not nearly as gripping.

The lopsided record in direct matchups changes the complexion, though. The Sox won the season series against Detroit last year (10-9), making the rest of the slate a bigger factor. Barring a reversal in fortune, these head-to-head losses may be too big a bulwark.

* * *  * * *   * * *

Speaking of things to watch in a losing season, my column for The Athletic covers the big weeks for Adam Engel and Daniel Palka, who may as well make the most of their time since the rebuild may force them out.

It’s not out of the question that he and Palka could play roles on eventual winners, even if they can’t develop their bat-to-ball skills. The problem is that baseball is increasingly unkind to position-player specialists in favor of ones who can pitch. The “pinch-running defensive substitute” role Engel was born to serve on MLB benches has been replaced by “another pitcher,” and while Palka embodies the perfect distillation of “left-handed thump,” that spot on the 25-man roster usually goes to “an even worse pitcher.” Matt Davidson is trying to supplement his lesser brand of bench power with the lowest-of-leverage relief work, and he’s brilliant for doing so.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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roke1960

With all of the outfield talent in the minor leagues, it will be hard to envision a spot for Engel on the next competitive Sox team. Several players would have to stall in the minors to keep Engel around. That better not happen. Eloy, Rutherford, Robert, Basabe, Gonzalez, Walker, Adolfo all have higher upside that Engel. There are several more that may be better.

Gutteridge70

Very depressing loss. Sox should have just walked Castellas 4 times. Lopez made stupid pitches and the bullpen look dead. Engel was the only bright spot.

ndsoxfan

Good piece for The Athletic.  I’m not sure what is more disappointing – the fact the none of the less heralded guys have stepped up and secured a significant role in the future(Sanchez, Davidson, Delmonico, L Garcia, Palka, Engel) or that none of the more hyped prospects have really taken off (Moncada, Giolito, Lopez). The second group has time on their side – the first – not so much

Willardmarshall

Engel shines in memories above replacement….

ForsterFTOG

RE: Atlantic piece
It’s time MLB added 2-3 additional roster spots to cover the always expanding pitching staffs.

VAChisox

Either that or implement a rule that restricts teams to no more than 12 pitchers (but then not sure how you would count Ohtanei). I hate the trend to adding yet “another pitcher” that encourages managers like RR to use 4 pitchers in an inning. Palka and Engel, for all of their flaws and limitations, provide a lot of entertainment and excitement.

35Shields

Or better yet, make a rule allowing for only one pitching change per inning.

1. Faster games
2. More offense
3. Smaller bullpens

Profit

joewho112

There could be issues if a guy gets lit up. I would vote for saying that a reliever must face 2 batters. It’d kills the loogy and roogy

soxygen

I tend to agree (and lean towards a limit of 11 pitchers). I think most of the “pace of play problem” has to do with pitching changes. Fewer pitchers will mean fewer pitching changes. I would guess that there might be other collateral benefits too – fewer pitchers might mean more pitches per pitching appearance and fewer max effort pitches and therefore fewer injuries, more balls in play, etc.  

yinkadoubledare

Wouldn’t be that hard to handle a two-way guy: they don’t count as a pitcher if they get X number of at bats in any other position than pitcher. If you bring a guy up into a non-pitcher slot and he doesn’t get those ABs in a certain period of time while pitching a certain number of games, apply some sort of penalty (lose a pitching slot for whatever the time limit for getting the ABs is, perhaps?). A guy’s two-way eligibility carries over to next year like positional eligibility in fantasy too – you’ve satisfied your burden of proof for the following season as long as he gets a certain number of at bats the prior season.

Because two-way players are interesting and fun and we like interesting and fun, so encourage it.

ndsoxfan

I will pass on even more pitching changes

As Cirensica

One pitcher per pitch!!!!
The cricket games will pale in comparison on playing time

35Shields

Really cool piece over at Fangraphs by a former player looking at strike zones across different levels of the minors.

As Cirensica

Bulwark!…..

5742mail

Why was Asher Wojcieohowski claimed by AAA, Dylan Cease should have gotten called up for that spot.