The Detroit Tigers couldn’t get to Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, an American League Cy Young Award candidate, but when the bullpen took over, their offense perked up over the final three innings.
With righty reliever Kendall Graveman on the mound, the White Sox conceded one too many hits in the eighth inning. They were eliminated from the AL Central race, while the Tigers won for the fifth time in six games.
“We played well,” manager A.J. Hinch told reporters in Chicago. “And we won in a couple different ways, including on a day where one of the best pitchers in baseball is pitching. I love the way we battled back. We had a lot of good things happen this weekend.”
The Cleveland Guardians have won the division for the first time since 2018. The White Sox still have never won back-to-back AL Central crowns.
The Tigers’ late push provided a 4-1 victory Sunday to sweep the White Sox in three games at Guaranteed Rate Field. Center fielder Riley Greene executed a pair of spectacular defensive plays, including a leaping catch in left-center to rob Andrew Vaughn of a two-run home run in the fourth inning.
Left-hander Tyler Alexander, who gave up a leadoff homer in the fourth, allowed one run on four hits and one walk with five strikeouts over six innings.
Over his past two starts, Alexander has a 0.69 ERA across 13 innings.
The Tigers (60-92) tied the score, 1-1, in the seventh inning on an RBI double from Victor Reyes off right-handed reliever Reynaldo Lopez. Most of their damage, however, occurred against Graveman in the eighth.
Four of the first five batters — Harold Castro, Kerry Carpenter, Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario — singled. The hits from Schoop and Candelario accounted for a pair of runs and a 3-1 advantage. Schoop then scored on a wild pitch for a 4-1 margin.
Graveman failed to escape the eighth. With two outs, lefty Aaron Bummer entered to face Greene. The rookie, a left-handed hitter, came out on top with a single to load the bases, but Javier Báez struck out swinging.
“Best trip of the year,” Hinch said. “We win the series in Baltimore (against the Orioles) while they’re fighting for something. We sweep the White Sox when they’re fighting for something. It’s important for us to play well, and we’ll get the results that we want if we continue to keep our focus, keep our fundamentals up, play clean and get our selection of pitches a little better at the plate.”
The Tigers’ bullpen backed the offense with scoreless efforts from lefty Andrew Chafin in the seventh, righty Will Vest in the eighth and lefty closer Gregory Soto in the ninth.
Cease and desist
For most of the game, the Tigers’ offense was lifeless in a matchup with one of the best pitchers in the AL. Cease, who has a 2.06 ERA in 31 starts, struck out the first two batters he faced — Greene, on a curveball below the strike zone, and Báez, on a fastball at the top of the zone — and wasn’t pressured until the fifth inning.
“He’s got elite stuff across the board,” Hinch said. “You either go with spin or go with velocity. A lot of times, you go wrong against him. We had a couple opportunities that we missed, and our selection at that point in the game wasn’t great. But we hung in there and made him work enough to where he has to leave the game at the time he did.”
Schoop doubled to left and Candelario drew a walk to put two runners on for Ryan Kreidler. He dropped down a sacrifice bunt, pushing both runners into scoring position. Reyes, though, struck out swinging on pitches in the dirt for the second out.
With first base open, Greene loaded the bases with an eight-pitch walk. Báez popped out to catcher Seby Zavala in foul territory on the first pitch of his at-bat. The Tigers, for the first time but not the last, let Cease off the hook.
In the sixth, the Tigers again stranded the bases loaded. Harold Castro (single), Eric Haase (single) and Carpenter (hit-by-pitch) reached in order, but Schoop bounced into a double play. The White Sox got the first runner out at home, then threw down to first base for the second out.
Still, the Tigers had runners on second and third base. Candelario flied out to end the sixth inning.
Cease tossed six scoreless innings on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts, throwing 59 of 95 pitches for strikes. He has a 1.72 ERA in 13 career games against the Tigers. On Sunday, his slider generated 10 of his 13 swings and misses.
“While it doesn’t always get easier against their bullpen,” Hinch said, “we weren’t upset that he had to leave the game.”
Great? How ’bout ‘Alexander the pretty good’
Alexander controlled a 10-inning scoreless streak, dating to his previous start, until Yoan Moncada’s solo home run in the fourth. Moncada jacked a first-pitch sinker 410 feet and over the wall in left-center for a 1-0 lead.
An ensuing single from AJ Pollock put Alexander in danger, but Greene saved the inning with an epic catch in left-center. The 21-year-old chased down a deep fly ball from Vaughn, with a .810 expected batting average, and jumped with his back to the wall. He reached his glove over the wall and pulled back what would have been a two-run blast.
In the third inning, Báez fielded a one-hopper from Elvis Andrus deep in the hole at shortstop. He popped to his feet but had to make an off-balance throw. He fired a bullet to first baseman Harold Castro for the third out.
The Tigers turned two double plays, one in the sixth and another in the seventh to help out Chafin with two runners on.
For his 79 pitches (54 strikes), Alexander used 27 four-seam fastballs (34%), 23 cutters (29%), 12 changeups (15%), 12 sinkers (15%) and five sliders (6%). He got seven swings and misses and 13 called strikes, with Chicago averaging an 87.1 mph exit velocity on 16 balls in play.