We haven’t even reached the All-Star break yet, and the Tigers are well out of playoff contention. So why would the fourth series against a division opponent be any different than the rest?
For starters, the Tigers just completed their second winning month in a row -- a much-needed taste of long-term success. But in the short-term, the signs of improvement have been even more encouraging.
On Wednesday, the Tigers swept a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, a team that has owned them for years and won eight of the first 11 meetings in 2021. The Tigers needed to clear the mental hurdle of winning a series at Progressive Field, and they did it in convincing fashion.
Even before heading to Cleveland, the Tigers were playing well. They swept St. Louis and clinched the season series against the first-place Houston Astros with a four-game split. All in all, the Tigers went 6-3 against three playoff contenders.
This weekend’s series is a chance to stack up against another top-tier team.
White Sox nightmares
The problem, obviously, is that the Tigers have had absolutely no success against Chicago this season. It’s reminiscent of the long-time struggles against Cleveland.
Detroit won the season series against Houston and Seattle. It swept the New York Yankees at home. This team has proven it can compete against the best.
But the White Sox have won eight of 10 games against the Tigers this season, including blowouts of 11-0 and 15-2.
If you eliminate the games against the White Sox, the Tigers are 34-37 this season -- nearly a .500 team. There’s something about guys like Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal that the Tigers haven’t been able to overcome.
Right now, with Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez on the injured list, the Tigers have a chance to stop the bleeding in this matchup. They slayed one demon in Cleveland -- why stop now?
Long wait for rematch
If the Tigers can’t win the series this weekend, it’s a long wait before they get another chance. The two teams won’t play again until Sept. 20 -- the penultimate week of the season.
After Sunday, the Tigers and White Sox will have played 13 of their 19 head-to-head games. Who knows what could happen between now and mid-September. Robert and Jimenez will almost certainly be back, and the Tigers might have shed a few valuable pieces at the trade deadline.
The White Sox could be fighting for playoff positioning in September while the Tigers limp toward the finish line. It’s best to take care of business now, when the team is playing well, rather than risk finishing the season with a record of, say, 3-16 against a division rival. The Tigers have proven they’re better than that.
Detroit also has a unique opportunity to make some considerable noise in the upcoming month. After the series against the White Sox, they’ll play an unprecedented *25 straight* games against the four worst teams in the American League.
That’s right: The final seven games of the first half and the first 18 games of the second half are all against the Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. These types of stretches don’t come along often, so the Tigers have to take advantage.
If Detroit can somehow take two of three games this weekend against Chicago -- or even just avoid a sweep -- there’s an opportunity to make a march toward .500 after the All-Star break.
Now vs. future
This series is a chance for the Tigers to pit their future against the best the White Sox have to offer.
Detroit’s three starters will be Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning -- the very trio of prospects the organization has been building around for years. They’ll get a chance to square off against Chicago’s veteran trio of Lance Lynn, Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito.
The White Sox are going to see a lot of these three young starters over the years, while the Tigers have stomached their fair share of misery at the hands of Lynn, Keuchel and Giolito.
Even if the Tigers don’t win the series, it would be encouraging to see Mize, Skubal and Manning hold their own and prove they belong against the current king of the Central. The White Sox aren’t going away any time soon, so Detroit’s young players need to be ready to show up for this matchup.