Game 105 Preview: Nationals at Tigers

Patrick McDermott

The Tigers kick off their final home interleague series of the season tonight against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. Anibal Sanchez will pitch for Detroit.

Washington Nationals (52-54) at Detroit Tigers (59-45)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Federal Baseball

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP Stephen Strasburg (5-8, 2.85 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 2.68 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Strasburg 20 123.1 9.27 2.77 0.80 1.07 3.28 3.25 2.1
Sanchez 17 104.0 10.30 2.86 0.43 1.19 2.39 3.11 3.5

Despite the losing record, Stephen Strasburg is still very good at this whole "pitching" business. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his 20 starts this season, including a streak of said starts that spanned nearly two months from May 11th to July 2nd. He has been prone to a few bad starts, however, and all of them have come away from Nationals Park. Strasburg is 1-4 with a 4.66 ERA, 1.366 WHIP, and 1.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the road this season.

While he is still striking out over a batter per inning, Strasburg's strikeout rate has dropped by almost 5% from 2012. There's no glaring reason for this drop in strikeout rate, other than a slight decline in swinging strike percentage, but it hasn't resulted in the concurrent decrease in walk rate you would expect either. Translation: he's not pitching to more contact, as far as we can tell.

One thing Strasburg has improved from 2012 are his numbers against left-handed hitters. Last season, lefties had a .271 batting average and .714 OPS against him. This season, those figures are down to .221 and .635, respectively. However, this might be just smoke and mirrors. His BABIP against lefties has declined by more than 80 points compared to last season, and he is walking them at a much higher clip. Of the 38 walks he has issued in 2013, 26 have come against left-handed hitters.

Sanchez has flat-out dominated the Nationals during his career, so it came as a bit of a surprise when he allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits against them back in May. His ERA rose from 1.82 to 1.97 after that start, which serves as a reminder as to how dominant he was at the beginning of the year. Since the All-Star Break, he has allowed just one run in 12 innings. His command looked much better in his last start against the Chicago White Sox, when he struck out five hitters and walked one in six shutout innings.

#Natinals (a.k.a. no 'O')

Thanks to a 14-1 bludgeoning of the New York Mets on Sunday, the Nationals moved ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies to rank 13th in the National League in runs scored this season. They have been heavily reliant on the home run ball, ranking seventh in the league with 100 dingers. They are 12th in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage, 11th in slugging average, and 13th in wOBA.

Their biggest problem is that they haven't gotten much production from the top of the lineup. Denard Span has a putrid .319 on-base percentage this season, and the hitters in the second spot in the lineup has combined for an abysmal .601 OPS. The middle of the order has held its own -- Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and Ryan Zimmerman all have an OPS+ of 121 or above -- but the secondary production that they got in 2012 hasn't been there in 2013. Davey Johnson's insistence on keeping Adam LaRoche in the cleanup spot despite a .726 OPS hasn't helped either.

Outlook

Sanchez's once-stupidly-dominant home numbers have regressed to becoming just crazy-dominant since he returned from the disabled list. He has a 2.19 ERA, 0.912 WHIP, and 5.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Comerica Park this season. More importantly, the Tigers are scoring 6.43 runs per game for him at home compared to just 3.7 per game on the road.

Strasburg has struggled on the road this season, but I don't see the Tigers offense scoring six runs off him. He has dominated right-handed hitters throughout his career, and the Tigers' lefty bats -- Victor Martinez excluded -- have not produced lately. However, the Nationals offense has scored 2.78 runs per game in his road starts, and Sanchez's history against them suggests that this number might get even lower after tonight.

Prediction

A healthy Sanchez cruises to an easy win against his former divisional rival.

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