While the White Sox pulled off an unlikely win against Corey Kluber, they didn't really play spoiler against the Cleveland Indians when looking back at the series. The Indians didn't gain any ground against the Tigers, but they did shave a half-game off the Mariners' margin and drew within a game of the Yankees with their winner on Thursday, so the second wild-card standings look like this:
So now it's Detroit's turn to try to keep the White Sox down. The Tigers get the advantage of throwing Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello at the Sox while they're already scuffling. They also have the potential misfortune of a doubleheader on Saturday, which could expose their thin pitching staff.
The matchups hint at a fascinating series:
- Scott Carroll vs. Justin Verlander
- Chris Sale vs. Max Scherzer
- Chris Bassitt vs. Kyle Ryan
- Jose Quintana vs. Rick Porcello
For two teams that aren't evenly matched, the probable pitchers align nicely. The second game pits a Cy Young finalist against a Cy Young winner. The third game has two spot starters making their major-league debuts. The fourth game features two starters who are in the process of shedding their "overlooked" labels.
And the first game ... well, that's more confusing than anything. It should be a huge edge to the Tigers, but take a look at these lines since June 1 and try to guess which one is Verlander's:
- Pitcher A: 3-5, 5.00 ERA, .272/.342/.434 allowed
- Pitcher B: 5-7, 5.59 ERA, .282/.340/.460 allowed
If you guessed Pitcher B, I assume you judged by the number of decisions. Otherwise, they're pretty much indistinguishable in terms of their effectiveness, and the gap in expectations has similarly narrowed. If Carroll allowed four runs on eight hits over 5⅔ innings, you'd probably consider it a slight disappointment, unless maybe he gave up all those runs in the first. But Verlander posted the same line in his last start against Minnesota, and the storyline was strained optimism.
Not that White Sox fans can look down their noses at the opposition right now. If the recent pattern holds, the Sox will muster early threats against Verlander but limit themselves to a couple of scratched-across runs while stranding a gauche number of runners, after which they'll go silent through the middle innings.
It's just that the stakes are so imbalanced that the teams practically inhabit different environments. I'm fascinated by the contenders' machinations and strategies, and I like watching Jose Abreu causing managers to lose hair they don't have, and it just so happens that the latter affects the former for a few days.
An example from the last series: On Wednesday, Robin Ventura challenged a play at the plate because nobody's sure how plays at the plate work anymore, and he's just trying to build up a research sample for a potential thesis if he ever decides to go to grad school. He talks to the umpires, the umpires review it, they come back with a quick decision that probably offers little enlightenment, and we're left to figure out why Tyler Flowers' tag on a similar play was overturned after a five-minute review a couple weeks ago.
But then you read the recap of the game at Let's Go Tribe, and it takes on an entirely different meaning:
Then came the annoyances. On an Alexei Ramirez grounder, Lonnie Chisenhall threw home to get Sanchez at the plate. Sanchez was out by a solid three steps, but Sox manager Robin Ventura decided to channel his inner Ozzie Guillen by throwing a hissy fit about Roberto Pereze blocking the plate. The umpires reviewed, and the review very clearly showed that Perez not only tagged the runner but also quite obviously stepped out of the baseline while executing the tag. The ruling on the field stood, but Ventura's tantrum continued.
By this point Kluber was visibly pissed off, and he requested a couple warmup pitches to get back into the swing of things. Much to his dismay, his request was denied, which prompted Terry Francona to take the field and do some whining of his own. Once the circus finally died down, Jose Abreu (who else) promptly singled straight up the middle, inches from Klubers outstretched glove, to drive in the go-ahead run. For all intents and purposes, the game was over after that.
I could argue that this leans too heavily on melodrama, but that's irrelevant. I'm pointing it out because that's an entirely different kind of frustration. When the Flowers debacle went down, Robin Ventura threw an actual tantrum and the Giants kept scoring and Adam Dunn did this ...
... my reaction was to laugh and think, "Have another one, Dave!"
(Years ago, I was in a Wendy's when an otherwise sane-looking middle-aged guy in front of me started talking to the large poster of Dave Thomas, pictured smiling and holding a burger. I can't remember how it started or what prompted it, just that it ended with him saying rather loudly, "Have another one, Dave!" punctuated by a cackle. That phrase always comes to mind when the awful starts getting piled high, even though I have no idea what the hell he actually meant.)
Had that game struck a blow to legitimate postseason hopes, my defense mechanism may have involved property destruction. But this season is a fact-finding mission, so it's a little easier to find perverse entertainment from dumb developments.
In this case, I want to see whether Carroll and Verlander are the same pitcher in practice, because 1) the preferred outcome is always more fun, and 2) it's a tough knot for Detroit to untangle. But if Verlander wins easily, I'll care more about what Abreu and Avisail Garcia and Carlos Sanchez did. I can watch baseball like that, but as weird as it sounds, it'll be nice when there's sufficient reason to get indignant and panicky again.