DETROIT -- The last time the Tigers had won a series against the White Sox, Shane Greene saved both victories. That was in April 2019.
The last time Detroit had won back-to-back games against the White Sox, Francisco Liriano earned one of the wins. That was Labor Day week of 2018.
As the Tigers pieced together early runs against Lucas Giolito on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, there was the feeling of another step being taken in Detroit’s march back to competitiveness in the American League Central. Sunday’s 6-5 win not only took the rubber match of the three-game set, it completed a week during which the Tigers (38-46) took two of three against Cleveland (42-39) and Chicago (49-34), two division rivals who have tormented them in recent years.
“We have to stand up and defend ourselves against our own division,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously these are teams that have had their way with us over the course of a few seasons, but we can put pressure on any team.”
Before Sunday’s game, Hinch said he met with the team and reminded players that they had recorded back-to-back winning months, the first time Detroit had done so in five years. As much as he loves the upstart factor, he wants his team to expect to compete against teams like this, and expect to win. Games like Sunday make a difference.
“We’re riding high now. It’s just how we’ve been playing lately,” said rookie outfielder Akil Baddoo, who ignited Detroit’s offense again from the leadoff spot. “We talked about it before the game: Just continue to bring pressure to try to win each series. And that’s what we’ve been doing lately.”
The Tigers won more games against the White Sox this weekend (two) than they did in 10 matchups last season. They did so with three starting pitchers who were in the Minor Leagues the last time Detroit beat the Sox in a series in 2019. Only Tarik Skubal lasted long enough to get a decision, picking up a win Saturday despite allowing five runs in as many innings, but the bullpen picked up fellow prospect Matt Manning after his early exit on Sunday.
The Tigers didn’t pummel Giolito so much as pepper him, denying him the strikeouts he usually racks up against Detroit with a disciplined approach. They had beaten him twice in three previous meetings this season, and Detroit now is responsible for half of his losses on the year. But like those previous three meetings, in which the Tigers slugged eight homers, this was a smaller-ball approach in which they denied him the strikeouts on which he usually thrives.
“We wanted to make him throw the ball down to us,” Hinch said. “We had to decide: Are you going to sit soft, or are you going to try to jump his heater? He’s kind of taken a different game plan each time against us, and we’ve had success on both.”
Baddoo turned an 0-2 fastball into a first-inning leadoff single, then set up a run with his speed, swiping second base for his team-high 13th stolen base of the season before coming around on back-to-back groundouts. He doubled in two more runs an inning later, declining to chase a high fastball before ripping a 2-2 changeup into the right-field corner.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit in that particular position," Baddoo said.
Five of Detroit’s first six batters in the second inning reached base safely against Giolito, four of them following two-strike counts. Jeimer Candelario led off the attack by lining an 0-2 fastball to left for a single, then scored when Harold Castro -- 0-for-9 off Giolito entering the day -- lined an 0-2 changeup back through the middle.
Until Sunday, Giolito had allowed just seven hits all season on 0-2 pitches, and just a .135 average (14-for-104) after putting hitters in an 0-2 hole. He eventually settled down with help from his slider, but the Tigers had already built a lead by then. Two-out RBI hits from Candelario and Eric Haase tacked on two insurance runs.
Giolito finished with five strikeouts in as many innings against the Tigers, the first time he hasn’t had more strikeouts than innings in a game against Detroit in eight starts since August 2018.
Manning had his own struggles finishing off batters. Five of his seven hits allowed came in two-strike counts, and he didn’t strike out a batter. Tyler Alexander, Kyle Funkhouser, Daniel Norris and Joe Jiménez picked him up with 5 1/3 scoreless innings and seven strikeouts. Newly named All-Star reliever Gregory Soto allowed a three-run homer to José Abreu in the ninth, but José Cisnero stranded the potential tying run with an Andrew Vaughn lineout.