For one night, the White Sox look like the team to beat in the AL Central.
The Tuesday Takeaway
The White Sox entered last night’s matchup with Justin Verlander with a .237 team TAv, the second-worst mark in baseball. Only the Marlins, at .231, had been less potent at the plate as a group, and Mike Redmond’s bunch did not have the benefit of a designated hitter. Among junior-circuit clubs, the Yankees, 11 points ahead of the White Sox at .248, were the next-worst squad.
The American League’s least productive lineup, one with only two starters toting on-base percentages higher than .310, is not supposed to collect 23 hits in a game against Verlander. But on Tuesday, the White Sox did.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
What has to go wrong for Justin Verlander to have a bad day at work?
The stage was set for an epic duel in Arlington last Thursday, pitting perennial CY Young contender Justin Verlander against 2013's frontrunner for the hardware, Yu Darvish of the Rangers. The matchup was a slam-dunk selection for the Game of the Week on this week's episode of TINSTAAPP, and the hype was such that it took thoughtful consideration before co-host/BP colleague Paul Sporer reluctantly chose the “under” when I set the line at 23 strikeouts for the two starters combined.
To say that the game fell short of expectation is a massive understatement. Darvish threw 130 pitches in a game in which he surrendered four runs over the first four frames yet was in no danger of losing. Verlander saw to it that Darvish would get his seventh win of the season, surrendering eight earned runs before he could escape the third inning. The third frame of Thursday's game was the worst of Verlander's career—the Rangers plated seven runners, including two via bases-loaded walks, and the outing ended mercifully after Geovany Soto knocked a 97-mph fastball into the left-field stands for an 8-3 Ranger lead.
How do you sell a mismatch like Zito vs. Verlander? By highlighting the differences.
Game One of the World Series features a lopsided pitching matchup. Justin Verlander is a superior pitcher to Barry Zito by every measure imaginable. So how do you sell this as an intriguing matchup? The FOX broadcast will probably focus on what Verlander and Zito have in common—the Cy Young. Zito won the award in 2002, his second full season in the majors, and Verlander took his home last winter.
But it’s not what Verlander and Zito have in common that could make this entertaining; rather, it’s what separates them.
Justin Verlander and the Tigers figure to be too much for Barry Zito and the Giants to handle in Game One.
The Tigers roared past the Yankees and spent the past five days working to stay fresh. The Giants needed seven games to oust the Cardinals and spent the past five days outscoring them 20-1. Which team will continue its winning streak in Game One of the World Series?
Detroit's pitchers toyed with Yankees batters in all four games of the ALCS. Here's a closer look at two striking Tiger sequences.
When I was in high school, the thing to do was play poker. Kids would play during free periods, lunch, whenever, sometimes winning and losing over $100 in a day. (And some of them could actually afford it.) Like any high schooler worth his salt, I followed suit, and soon I was a dependably willing player, relatively conservative but always game to try to fleece a freshman who’d just looked up the rules on his expensive new iPhone. As an editor of the school newspaper, I even planted this quote in a cover story we ran on the poker fad: “It’s the most intellectually challenging thing I’ve ever done.” Yeah, when it came to antagonizing our teachers, we had a lot of tricks in our bag.
Poker may not have taught me as much as I wanted my teachers to think it did, but I did introduce me to one piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since: a successful poker player focuses more on his opposition’s holding than his own hand. I find that’s true in many walks of life, nowhere more so than in the duel between batter and pitcher, when it’s just natural to do what feels most comfortable to you, rather than what might feel least comfortable to your opponent. In the most extreme example, Aroldis Chapman walks a Little Leaguer on four sliders because he fears he doesn’t have his best heat that day. In a real-world example, the Yankees don’t adjust to the way their ALCS opponent’s pitchers attack them, and their season ends because of it. (Oh, and Justin Verlander somehow allows a home run to Eduardo Nunez. But we’ll get there.)
Two preseason favorites match up, but there are plenty of surprises about how they got there. Undoubtedly, there are surprises to come.
After all that funny business, the American League ultimately settled into a scenario quite easily predicted all along: the Tigers against the Yankees in the ALCS. Not that there aren’t still surprises, even with the A’s and Orioles eliminated. The Tigers, for instance, aren’t the 1,000-run Tigers, but a club built on starting pitching good enough to win even when the offense is scoring only three runs per game. And the Yankees are, by choice, fielding an A-Rod-less team in the most crucial moments. There will be plenty of narratives in this series: The inevitability of Justin Verlander; the Triple Crown winner trying to punctuate the end of his season; the Yankees’ first postseason without Mariano Rivera; slumping veteran stars on the Yankees; the many overachieving adjectives about Derek Jeter; and, as always, Alex Rodriguez. They’re fine narratives, even if they’re not the ones we underdog-lovers were rooting for.