Game 131 Preview: Athletics at Tigers

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers return home for a four game series against the Oakland A's. A.J. Griffin and Anibal Sanchez are tonight's starting pitchers.

Oakland Athletics (72-57) at Detroit Tigers (77-53)

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

SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP A.J. Griffin (10-9, 3.84 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (11-7, 2.45 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Griffin 26 164.0 7.13 2.58 1.65 1.16 4.72 4.29 0.9
Sanchez 22 139.2 9.79 2.64 0.39 1.13 2.34 3.14 4.8

Griffin broke onto the scene in a big way in 2012, compiling a 6-0 record and 1.94 ERA in his first 11 big league starts. His 12th start -- a late season matchup at Comerica Park -- saw him come crashing back to earth. Griffin allowed five runs on eight hits, including three home runs, in 4 2/3 innings. He scuffled his way through the rest of the season, but that game against the Tigers was his only loss of 2012. He held the Tigers to two runs in five innings in Game 4 of last year's ALDS.

Fast forward to this season and Griffin has continued to fall back to earth. His ERA has hovered in the mid- to high-threes all season long, topping out at 4.04 in the middle of May. His FIP is much higher at 4.72 thanks to a league-high 30 home runs allowed, or 1.64 dingers every nine innings. His strikeout rate has not budged from 2012, while his walk rate has increased slightly. These problems have been magnified since the All-Star Break. In seven starts, Griffin has allowed a 4.32 ERA and 12 (!) home runs.

Other than the home runs, Griffin has pitched pretty well this season. Opposing hitters have a .230 batting average off him this season with a .243 BABIP. A ridiculous 49.9% fly ball rate is largely to blame here -- if a fly ball doesn't leave the park (which doesn't affect BABIP), it's probably going to be caught.

Anibal Sanchez might not be getting the Cy Young love that Max Scherzer has received thanks to his gaudy 19-1 record, but Sanchez has been every bit as dominant this season. Since the All-Star Break, Sanchez's 1.51 ERA is second in the American League. The best? Scherzer, at 1.48. Sanchez has yet to allow more than two runs in a start in the second half.

Highway to the danger zone

The A's have struggled in the second half, going just 16-18 with a -5 run differential. They have a 1 1/2 game lead in the Wild Card standings, but with their next 10 games against the Tigers, Rays, and Rangers, that lead could evaporate quickly. If they can survive this stretch, they will finish off the season with 20 of 23 games against sub-.500 teams.

Outlook

It may seem like it's "home run or bust" with Griffin on the mound, but this Tigers team tends to have other ideas at home. As a team, the Tigers are hitting .297/.363/.454 at Comerica Park this season, giving them the best home OPS in baseball. That said, expect a homer or two from the offense, including yet another from Miguel Cabrera.

Sanchez handled the A's well back in April, holding them to one run in seven innings. He allowed just three hits and struck out eight batters, but walked four. He has had bouts of wildness at times this season, but hasn't allowed more than two walks in any of his last six starts. The A's lead the majors with a 9.4% walk rate, but their .244 batting average -- 12th in the American League -- will probably lead to a few LOBsters this evening.

Prediction

Griffin has another rough outing at Comerica and the Tigers win their fourth straight.

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