Chicago at Detroit Preview: Tigers look to clinch opening series

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The Detroit Tigers began the 2022 campaign with a wild victory over the Chicago White Sox on Friday afternoon, coming back late in the innings to claim a 5-4 victory after starter Eduardo Rodríguez stumbled out of the gates. While it’s certainly a blow for fans, some clutch hits – including a two-RBI single for Miguel Cabrera’s No. 2,988 hit, as well as an Eric Haase deep jack and a hit on the outside wall just over the defender’s glove with two outs in the ninth by Javier Baez – was enough for the Olde English D boys to win.

Much credit also goes to the bullpen, led by Drew “Clutch” Hutchison who blocked the Sox bats with a heavy diet of broken balls long enough to get the Tigers deep into the final innings without closing the deficit. It was the kind of game that makes you happy that baseball is back. It’s hard to ask for a more perfect opening day.

Now Detroit is looking to clinch the three-game series against its intradivisional rivals and take an early lead in the AL Central. They’ll be looking to do so behind one of their top draft picks, who took a little longer to find his groove than some had hoped, but has continued to show improvement. Casey Mize will open his 2022 campaign looking to build on a strong first full season in the majors. He’ll face a formidable foe who has historically possessed the Tigers, so the Motor City Kitties will need the best from their current No. 2 starter on Saturday when they face off on the mound.

Detroit Tigers (1-0) against Chicago White Sox (0-1)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation website: Southside Sox

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitch match (2021): RHP Casey Mize (7-9, 3.71 ERA) vs. RHP Dylan Cease (13-7, 3.91 ERA)

Game 2 Pitching Matchup (2021 stats)

Launcher IPs K% BB% FIP fWAR
Launcher IPs K% BB% FIP fWAR
Mize 150.1 19.3 6.7 4.71 1.3
Cease 165.2 31.9 9.6 3.41 4.4

Casey Mize — the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and one of the franchise’s future faces — needs no introduction to Tigers fans. After slow starts in his first two seasons, the 24-year-old enters his third major league campaign in 2022 and looks to build on his modest improvements in 2021.

He has done quite well in his five career appearances against the Pale Hose, never giving up more than three earned runs, although he lost all three meetings last year without being in the final decision at his two matchups in 2020. His best performance came on April 29, 2021, when he pitched six three-run innings with six strikeouts and no homers allowed in the losing effort; his team only set up one race in support.

The Auburn University product used a five-pitch arsenal last season that featured a duo of fastballs in a seam four (93.9 mph) and a sinker (93.2 mph) that he used 29.1% and 22.9% of the time, respectively. Its slider (85.9 mph) is its most prolific secondary offering at a 28.1% clip, followed by its splitter (85.8 mph) and curve (81.3 mph) which it registers at 13 .2% and 6.8%, respectively. This spring, Mize talked about cutting the lead and maybe mixing the curve a little more often. He looked good in Grapefruit League action, so we’ll see how he wears it on his first start of the year.

Mize saw improvements in his signature pitch — the splitter — between 2020 and 2021, increasing the drop from a paltry -1.4 inches off average to a robust 3.6 inches, per Baseball Savant. However, it remains a less dominant weapon than hoped for out of college, and he has focused on tuning his build and feeling the terrain this spring.

The splitter had good numbers and hitters didn’t do much with it, but it only threw a hair at him over 13% of the time and the smell rate wasn’t as good as his fastball with four seams and its slider. Mize rightly leaned into it, last year he did a lot of fastball-sliding, and was still solid. Getting the splitter back in the batters’ heads will be key for him to take the next step.

Mize also tossed the cutter last year – which was slightly above average – and expanded it to a slider which was a versatile weapon for him all year round. Batters felt 28.2% of the time and rarely did more than play. The weighted baseline expected average over slider (xwOBA) was a paltry 0.294. Thing is, Mize has a lot more to work with than the splitter, and the combination of better on-court defense and a heavier four-seam mix could set him up for a really solid season.

Dylan Cease is coming off a very impressive 2021 season that saw him lead the American League in starts and strikeouts by nine innings, helping the ChiSox win a division title in his third major league season. . He is one of the best young talents in the game. The Pale Hose have only lost to the Kitties once with him on the mound – his last outing of 2021 on October 3 at home during which he kicked four frames of a ball by stepping two and retiring five; the good guys still prevailed, 5-2.

The 26-year-old right-hander racks up those Ks using a traditional power arsenal consisting of a blazing four-seam fastball (96.7 mph), slider (85.9 mph), curveball (79 .9 mph) and a change (78.1 mph) that it employs 46.8%, 30.6%, 15.2% and 7.4%, respectively, per Baseball Savant. Despite the high number of starts, its Achilles’ heel seems to be its inability to dive deep into matches, managing only 5.2 frames on average per outing. A quick look at the stats suggests his high strikeout rate comes at the cost of some efficiency, which puts a bit of pressure on the bullpen behind him every time he takes the mound.

Make no mistake, if Cease has his affairs under control, as he has for much of his 2021 season, the Tigers are going to have a tough afternoon. Their best bet is to try and get him out of the game as soon as possible. With teams carefully managing their starters’ innings after shortened spring training, it’s doable.

Key Matchup: Top of the order vs. Cease

Detroit’s top three hitters in the batting order reached base nine times in 14 plate appearances against Chicago on Friday, scoring four runs in the process. That same amount of toughness shown at the plate will need to be replicated against Cease if the good guys are going to have a good chance of clinching the series, especially given his struggles coming into declining innings. Count on Miggy to bring another shot closer to his milestone as well.

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