Game 49 Preview: Tigers at Athletics

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Anibal Sanchez has won his last two starts for the Tigers, and is the only starter to record a quality start in his previous outing. Tonight he faces lefty Scott Kazmir of the Oakland A's.

Detroit Tigers (29-19) at Oakland Athletics (31-21)

Time/Place: 10:05 p.m., O.Co Coliseum

SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-2, 2.83 ERA) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (5-2, 2.56 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Sanchez 7 35.0 8.23 3.60 0.00 1.11 2.42 3.78 1.1
Kazmir 10 59.2 6.79 1.96 0.45 1.01 3.05 3.59 1.3

Scott Kazmir resurrected his career out of thin air in 2013, logging 158 innings with a 4.04 ERA for the Cleveland Indians during their improbable run to the postseason. He was even better than the superficial numbers indicated, with a 3.51 FIP and a 3.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The results have matched the underlying numbers so far this season. However, things have changed slightly. Kazmir is no longer striking out a batter per inning, but his walk rate has also dipped sharply. This has left him with a nearly identical strikeout-to-walk ratio as last season. His home run rate has also declined, and it's not just home-cooking. In six road starts, Kazmir has only allowed one long ball.

Oddly, Kazmir has thrown fewer first pitch strikes and fewer pitches within the strike zone than he did last year, yet his walk rate has decreased from 7.0% last season to 5.5% this year. He has also gotten fewer swings and misses as well, leading to a 5.1% difference in strikeout rate from 2013. The culprit seems to be his fastball. His velocity has dropped by nearly 2 mph on both his four- and two-seam fastballs, leading to a sharp decline in whiff rate. He is also throwing them less often, instead relying on off-speed pitches. He is throwing his changeup a whopping 26% of the time against right-handed hitters, including 41% of the time with two strikes. This is part of the reason why they are hitting .193/.249/.295 against him this season -- though a .228 BABIP also helps.

Anibal Sanchez is the only Tigers starter to have escaped the recent funk that the entire team is in. While the rest of the rotation has been giving up runs like Halloween candy, Sanchez allowed just two runs in seven innings against the Texas Rangers on Friday for the team's only victory since their series in Boston. He displayed better command than his victory in Boston -- yes, he owned the Tigers' last two wins before yesterday --  striking out five without a walk. He still has yet to top 100 pitches since coming off the disabled list, but his early exit last time out could also have been by design. The Tigers were up by five runs at that point, and there was little reason to stress him unnecessarily.

Hitter to fear: Coco Crisp (.455/.417/.909 in 12 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jed Lowrie (.077/.200/.077 in 15 plate appearances)

A's hitters have had a wide range of success (or lack thereof) against Sanchez in his career. Coco Crisp has been unstoppable, reaching base five times in 11 at-bats  He has a pair of doubles and a home run to boot. Josh Donaldson has also added five base hits, but all are singles. He has reached base safely in seven-of-15 plate appearances against Sanchez overall. Jed Lowrie's numbers are poor, but he is joined by Yoenis Cespedes, John Jaso, and Josh Reddick. All four have a career OPS under .600 against Sanchez.

Outlook

It's worth noting that the Tigers have only had one day off since May 1, and are essentially on their fifth stop of a six-city road trip. This does not explain the starting rotation's woes -- no one has pitched on short rest, and some are getting extra days between starts -- but the mental lapses make some sense given the grind of the recent schedule. Sanchez has pitched well against the A's, but his career 5.09 ERA against them belies a .651 OPS allowed. Meanwhile, the Tigers have hit for a .770 OPS against left-handed starters this season.

Prediction

The Tigers make it two in a row, but in less stressful fashion tonight.

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