Detroit Tigers (41-32) at Texas Rangers (35-41)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Globe Life Park in Arlington
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Joe Saunders did not sign a contract with the Rangers until March 5, and an 11.37 ERA in Spring Training did not deter the club from putting him on their Opening Day roster. Saunders was struck by a ball off the bat of Evan Longoria in his first outing and spent nearly two months on the disabled list. Since returning in late May, Saunders has actually been pretty good. He has allowed a 3.33 ERA in his last five starts despite a .380 BABIP and has held the opposition to three runs or fewer in four of those outings. He was roughed up by the Los Angeles Angels in his last start for seven runs (four earned) in 4⅔ innings.
Surprisingly, home runs have not been an issue for Saunders so far this season — though, to be fair, he has only made two home starts. In his career, he has allowed 1.13 home runs every nine innings despite fly ball rates in the mid-to-high 30s. His ground ball rate has spiked in the past couple seasons without a major change to his pitching repertoire. He started throwing his two-seam fastball more often in 2012, but still allowed a batted ball profile close to his career norms. Better sequencing may be the case, as his pitch selection seems slightly more unpredictable than in the past, particularly on the first pitch of an at-bat.
Anibal Sanchez was the lone Tigers starter to beat the Rangers in their recent visit to Comerica Park. He allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings, a line that is all but expected whenever Sanchez takes the mound these days. Since coming off the disabled list in May, Sanchez has allowed a 1.93 ERA and a 2.45 FIP in 46⅔ innings. Even more impressive is his 0.84 WHIP during that stretch, which is partially aided by a .211 BABIP. He delivered more of the same in his last start, allowing just one run in seven innings to beat the Kansas City Royals. It was the second time this season that he halted a losing streak of three games or more.
The last time the Tigers faced Joe Saunders, he destroyed a dugout
Adrian Beltre is obliterating Tigers pitching this season. In five games, he his hitting .632/.696/.842 with six RBI and four walks. It has gotten ridiculous. Beltre's big numbers against Sanchez don't seem to be a fluke either. He has two hits in each of the three meetings between them, including a 2-for-3 performance earlier this season. After Beltre, the Ranger with the highest OPS against Sanchez is feared slugger Carlos Pena, who is hitting .231/.333/.462. Sanchez's career reverse splits have not helped him against Shin-Soo Choo, who has a .375 on-base percentage in 16 plate appearances. Choo is hitting a pedestrian (for him) .235/.367/.382 against right-handed hitters this year.
Like usual, right-handed hitters are having their way with Saunders. They have a .900 OPS against him this season, along with 11 walks to just 14 strikeouts. Lefties are faring much better than usual (in a limited sample), at .375/.405/.375 in 42 plate appearances. However, the Tigers have had problems with soft-tossing lefties at times this season. Their .758 OPS against left-handed pitchers is third in the American League, but they have been beaten by Jason Vargas, John Danks, J.A. Happ, and Tommy Milone in the last month alone. Anibal Sanchez's overall run support numbers look decent, but the Tigers have scored three runs or fewer in seven of his 12 starts this season.
Saunders throws eight shutout innings, then takes off his mask to reveal that he is actually Clayton Kershaw. Ron Washington orders six sacrifice bunts.