Tigers-Sox series a good rebuild benchmark

September 14th, 2020

The Tigers worked White Sox starter Jonathan Stiever for 36 pitches in his first Major League inning, including four consecutive three-ball counts to begin Sunday’s series finale. deposited an RBI single into shallow center field to give Detroit its first lead since the sixth inning of Friday’s series opener and create an opportunity for a big inning. But when Stiever struck out fellow rookie to end the threat, the missed opportunity for add-on runs seemed destined to haunt the Tigers.

By the time sent a sixth-inning single through the right side for Detroit’s next hit, the White Sox had rallied off , and the Tigers were on their way to a 5-2 loss and their second series sweep at Guaranteed Rate Field this season.

The Tigers went 1-9 against the White Sox this season, losing nine in a row after winning the Aug. 10 series opener at Comerica Park. Detroit is 19-17 against every other team it has faced.

“They're definitely a very competitive team that we're going to have to compete against a lot,” Turnbull said. “We're going to have to get better to do it. I love our team. I think we have a lot of really good pieces. I think we're playing well. Sometimes things just don't quite go your way, but we're building on it. We're getting better.”

While the White Sox have ridden their wave of young talent to the top of the division, the Tigers aren’t quite there yet. Many of Detroit’s key cogs in the rebuild have made their big league debuts this summer, including four of their top seven prospects according to MLB Pipeline’s rankings. White Sox top prospect Luis Robert and 2018 top Draft pick Nick Madrigal joined a young core that included reigning batting champion Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoán Moncada, left fielder Eloy Jiménez and American League Cy Young Award candidate Lucas Giolito.

“They went through the same growing pains that we have, believe me,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “They took their beatings, too, and they've done a really nice job in that organization of drafting, developing, a couple great pickups, to put that team on the field. And that is a very, very good team. I don't think they're going to go away, because they have some young talent.

“We're working on it. They started maybe a little earlier than us, but we're doing pretty good in this organization as far as these position players and everything. We have a bunch of guys that we think are going to be really good, and that's exactly the way they started out. They hope they're going to be really good, they think they're going to be really good, and right now you're seeing their product on the field that's ready to play at another level, and we're continuing to try to get to that level consistently. We do it every once in awhile, but not consistently.”

The White Sox have essentially replaced the Indians as the Tigers’ nemesis. If Detroit is going to answer, it needs to bridge the gap in key areas:

Starting pitching
This is the strength of the Tigers’ youth movement, and eventually where they have to nullify Chicago’s offensive might. They’ve shown promise, including five no-hit innings from on Friday night before the Sox chased him in the sixth. But the Tigers didn’t get the outings they needed from their more experienced starters against the White Sox this year. Turnbull hung in Sunday after a 28-pitch second inning before a three-run fifth inning widened the gap; he threw 60 pitches over just two innings against the White Sox on Aug. 20.

“I felt like my stuff was really sharp for sure, compared to how it's been all year,” Turnbull said Sunday. “And for the most part, I feel like I executed. I had swing-and-miss stuff today, which I haven't really had this year, either. Just had a lot of hits fall in.”

allowed 10 runs over 8 2/3 innings in back-to-back losses to the White Sox in August, racking up 14 strikeouts but allowing five home runs. The early exits left Gardenhire turning to his bullpen too often to fill innings rather than protect leads.

Tim Anderson
Anderson finished the season series 20-for-39 with 17 runs scored and 10 RBIs. The reigning AL batting champ hits other clubs, too -- he’s 15-for-35 against Kansas City and 6-for-13 against Cleveland -- but his damage against Detroit is on another level. Whenever the Tigers tried to adjust their game plan, Anderson was ready, and he served as the catalyst for a dangerous White Sox lineup that outscored the Tigers by a 70-28 margin.

Need the big innings
The Tigers scored three runs or fewer in six of their final seven games against the White Sox, all in Chicago, including five total runs in this three-game series. For the season, they hit .204 (66-for-324) against the White Sox, including a 6-for-31 showing from , 8-for-37 from Candelario and 5-for-34 from .

“We've got some kids trying to learn how to hit here in this little race that everybody's trying to stay involved in, and we're kinda having a real hard time right now,” Gardenhire said. “It's not easy, and they're trying to learn on the go in the middle of this thing.”