By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – With five games remaining in the regular season and the Detroit Tigers clinging to a one-game lead in the American League Central, Wednesday’s game between the Tigers and the Chicago White Sox features two of the biggest names in pitching – Justin Verlander and Chris Sale.
Verlander, who last season and this season has struggled to match the lofty standards he established earlier in his career, enters the game with a 4.68 ERA. He has given up an American League-worst 103 earned runs through 31 starts. In Verlander’s last start, however, the 2011 American League MVP lasted 7 1/3 innings and gave up just one earned run.
“I think his last start was his best start, so I’m hoping we see a similar Justin today,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said before Wednesday’s game. “He was locating his fastball well. His curveball was as good as it’s been his last couple starts. He just attacked the hitters on both sides of the plate.”
Last season, Verlander performed much better in the postseason than he did over the course of the regular season. Over 23 innings in three playoff games in 2013, Verlander allowed just one earned run. The Tigers hope, of course, that such a bump in performance happens again this year.
“I think certain guys have, when the stage is bigger and the spotlight’s brighter, they turn up their concentration, their game is elevated,” Ausmus said. “I think there is some truth to that.”
It would behoove the Tigers if Verlander indeed fits in that category and if the recent improvement in his pitching continues Wednesday. Detroit’s offense will likely need all the help it can get against Sale, who enters Wednesday’s game with a 2.20 ERA.
The White Sox ace is not untouchable, however. In Sale’s most recent start, against the Kansas City Royals, he gave up five earned runs, the most he has in any game this season. Of course, that anomaly does not allay concerns about how the Tigers will fare against him.
“There’s many approaches to a guy like Sale,” Ausmus said. “You could just sit on one of his pitches and hope he throws it in an area where you can hit. You can sit on the fastball and try to adjust to the slider, but he’s not easy for anybody. It’s tough regardless of what your approach is.”
The Tigers eked out a walk-off win Tuesday, but the Royals also won, bringing the pesky Kansas City team within one game of the three-time defending AL Central champs. It appears likely that both teams will make the playoffs, one as the division winner and one as the wild card.
Certainly, the Tigers prefer one option to the other.
“The wild card is there, but the goal is to win the division,” Ausmus said. “Anything can happen in one game, so you certainly want to avoid the wild card if possible.”