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Gamethread: White Sox at Astros

South Siders attempt to salvage series against a Hall-of-Famer who’s had their number for a full decade

MLB: Miami Marlins at Houston Astros
Grandpa Verlander is in full stride so far this season; just don’t steal at the wrong time or swing on the wrong count, or there will be a paddlin’.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After yesterday’s 13-3 reversal of the Great Run Differential Reversal, the Chicago White Sox are back in action for the second game of their series against the Astros, once again trying to win their first game in Houston since 2019.

Though it’s just his seventh start for the Sox, it feels as if Johnny Cueto (0-3, 3.53 ERA) has been relied on as a stopper nearly every time he’s taken the hill. Today is no different, as Tony La Russa is running out yet another underpowered Saturday lineup card as his team attempts to stave off defeat in yet another series.

There’s not a lot to say here. Personally, it’s hard not to laugh at the team’s contractual obligation to declare to the world on a daily basis via social media lineup card that, in the midst of a supposed championship window, the most on-point oddsmakers in the country are giving them a 50/50 shot of scoring more than three runs on any given night.

Regardless, even if there were a lot to say, today’s opposition would probably mute most of it. Though their need is less dire, the Astros are also giving this afternoon’s game ball to a wily, veteran righthander who’s been around the block a few times. This veteran, however, didn’t need to take a minor league deal on the cusp of the regular season to find a home this year. As a matter of fact, he enters today tied for fourth in the AL with a 1.94 ERA, continuing to take no-hitters into the late innings as a matter of course — at the ripe old age of 39:

His name is Justin Verlander, and he’s made 45 career starts against the White Sox, winning 22 of them. Only the Royals have held more Ls from JV since 2006, and if his 3.65 career ERA against the Pale Hose seems high, it’s because the large majority of those earned runs came in the early part of his career: He’s given up more than three of them in a game to the South Siders exactly four times since Barack Obama was elected President. Verlander has gone at least six innings with two or fewer runs allowed in 11 of his last 13 tries. He hasn’t actually taken a loss since 2014. It’s hard to understate how much Verlander has owned the Sox since I’ve been old enough to firmly comprehend it, so I’ll just leave all those post-Obama starts here for you to parse:

Great googly moogly. Good thing Houston’s lineup doesn’t have quite as much bite to it as their starting pitcher, right? Right?

If there’s any silver lining, it’s that this Astros lineup has virtually no experience facing Cueto: Altuve, Brantley, Díaz, and Maldonado have combined for 34 plate appearances against him in which they’ve registered six hits, all singles. With Verlander still pitching like a Hall-of-Famer in his prime, however, six singles might well be all the Astros need on a day like today.

One matchup detail worth noting? According to Baseball Savant’s run values, Astros hitters are more or less even with the Yankees for the best in the league against right-handed four-seam fastballs (1.1 added runs per 100 pitches), but are far more easily managed by sinkers (0.8 RV/C) and cutters (0.6 RV/C), with Kyle Tucker, Yordan Álvarez, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman in particular struggling to contribute against sinkers this season. We may perhaps expect Cueto to deliver a particularly heavy diet of those two offerings today alongside his changeup, which has dominated lefties this season to the tune of a .190 wOBA and 30% whiff rate.

First pitch from Minute Maid Park is at 3:10 p.m. CST, with Jason and Steve returning to the booth for NBC Sports Chicago while Len and DJ retain radio duties on AM 1000.