The White Sox are coming off a satisfying 6-3 homestand, in which they took series from the Athletics and Mariners around a split with the Phillies. They only bring a two-game winning streak into Detroit, but they’re riding a five-game streak of thoroughly watchable games. Chris Sale took the loss, but he struck out 14 batters and finished the complete game retiring the last 16, which was a show within a show.
The last? James Shields, who gave up three homers over six innings to Philadelphia on Wednesday. And even that wasn’t all that terrible, as the White Sox offense eventually woke up and put together a credible ninth-inning threat in a 5-3 loss.
No, for the legitimately awful showing by the White Sox, you have to go to the start of the homestand, when ... um ... James Shields started and gave up three homers over 4⅔ innings to Oakland while the offense was Madduxed by Kendall Graveman.
That’s the beauty of the pitching rotation, I guess. Shields is the nail in the tire, and the metal "tink" against the pavement every revolution reminds you that the situation will soon become untenable.
Shields will get another chance to get out of the way of progress when he takes the mound against Detroit, but there are two factors that could tag-team against him tonight.
No. 1: It’s still August. Shields is 0-4 with a 13.95 ERA in his five starts this month, and with some grotesque peripherals. He’s given up 40 hits over 20 innings, and opponents are hitting .408/.468/.888 against him.
No. 2: The Tigers hit homers. And boy howdy, does Shields give them up. Shields has a chance to make history tonight as the first White Sox pitcher to give up multiple home runs in five consecutive starts. He also has a chance to finish August with more home runs allowed than strikeouts, as that scoreboard is knotted at 11.
This problem is especially acute because the teams taking Shields deep aren’t especially good at it. OK, it’s not necessarily insulting if the Orioles whomp him four times, because they lead the league with 204 homers. You’d just rather them spread them out over seven innings, rather than 1⅓.
The last three teams have ranked in the bottom third in home runs — the Marlins 29th, Athletics 22nd and Phillies 23rd.
This was supposed to be Shields’ respite from long-ball threats, but he ended up giving up seven dingers somehow. Now it’s back to a slugging team, as the Tigers are eighth in baseball with 170 homers.
Ironically, the Tigers are the last team Shields was able to keep in the park. They thumped him for six fifth-inning runs back on Aug. 2, which now stands as a line of demarcation between Shields’ miraculous July and his nightmare August — but they couldn’t hit the ball over the wall against him.
I suppose you could point to that game and say that two gopher balls aren’t a given for Shields, even facing a powerful offense. The counterpoint: Regression has already hammered Shields into the ground once, and it can do it again.
Over in Washington, the man Shields replaced has finally surfaced.
Mat Latos isn’t yet a National, but reports indicate that he will be. His contract was supposed to set him free from Washington today, but he and the club reworked it, allowing him to hang out in the minors for three more days before reuniting with Dusty Baker when rosters expand Sept. 1.
Latos went a month and a half without pitching after the White Sox cut him loose. He finally returned to action in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League at the end of July, pitching three short starts before joining Triple-A Syracuse. His success with the Chiefs mirrors his early run with the White Sox, as he posted a 1.06 ERA over 17 innings, even though he had unfavorable peripherals (10 strikeouts, seven walks). That doesn’t seem like the recipe for useful MLB innings.
The Nationals hold an eight-game lead over the Marlins the NL East, so they don’t really need anything from Latos. He’s more or less a rotation spacer, allowing the Nationals to give Max Scherzer a breather and gradually reintroduce Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross back into action, should they be healthy enough to return.
It’ll be kinda unfortunate if Latos actually factors into postseason plans, but it’s also a nice change of pace to see another team try a veteran the White Sox had picked up. Other discarded players like Jimmy Rollins and John Danks received no reported interest after the Sox designated them for assignment.