Game 79 Preview: Athletics at Tigers

Jason O. Watson

Anibal Sanchez and Scott Kazmir put on a show back in May, striking out a combined 17 batters in a 3-1 A's victory. Can they repeat their dominance tonight?

Oakland Athletics (51-30) at Detroit Tigers (44-34)

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

SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Scott Kazmir (9-3, 2.66 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-2, 2.64 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Kazmir 16 98.0 7.71 1.93 0.83 1.01 3.35 3.36 1.8
Sanchez 13 75.0 7.68 2.52 0.24 0.96 2.66 3.60 2.1

When the Tigers last saw Kazmir, he had an ERA in the mid-twos and was walking fewer than two batters per nine innings. Today is the same story. However, Kazmir has gone on a strikeout rampage, whiffing 31 batters in his last 29⅓ innings. He was having a great June prior to his last start, allowing a 1.37 ERA in four starts against AL East opponents. Then, the New York Mets (of all teams) lit him up for seven earned runs in just three innings of work. It was by far Kazmir's worst start of the season, and ballooned his ERA from 2.08 to 2.66.

While Kazmir has seen a substantial bump in strikeout rate over the last month, his walk rate has not budged. He has eight walks in 29⅓ innings this month, just above his season rate of 1.93 walks per nine innings. His FIP has increased from 3.05 to 3.35 in the last month despite pitching quite well, but this is because he allowed three home runs in that awful start against the Mets. His misfortune was not all for naught, as it did show that MLB's headline writers have a sense of humor.

Anibal Sanchez was not very sharp in his last start, giving up four runs in 5⅓ innings against the Texas Rangers. It was a surprising outing, as Sanchez looked dominant through the first three innings before things fell apart in the fourth. His command was not an issue, as he tallied five strikeouts to just one walk. The offense picked up the slack for Sanchez, delivering him his third consecutive win. This extended Sanchez's unbeaten streak to nine starts, dating back to late April. He has a 2.30 ERA and a 2.70 FIP during this stretch, including a 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Hitter to fear: Coco Crisp (.400/.375/.800 in 16 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jed Lowrie (.063/.167/.063 in 16 plate appearances)

Sanchez has had a lot of trouble getting Coco Crisp out during his career. Crisp is 6-for-15 against Sanchez with three doubles and a home run. Those numbers may improve again tonight, as Crisp is hitting .342/.427/.539 in June. He has also drawn 32 walks in just 202 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers this season. Josh Donaldson has also done a fair amount of damage. In 18 plate appearances, Donaldson has six hits. Sanchez has kept him in the ballpark, however, as all six hits are singles. Jed Lowrie has been helpless against Sanchez in 16 plate appearances, with Derek Norris and John Jaso not far behind. Yoenis Cespedes and the DL-stricken Josh Reddick also have a sub-.500 OPS against Sanchez.

Outlook

These two starters have already given us one fantastic pitcher's duel this season. Sanchez outpitched Kazmir for eight innings, but a meltdown by Joe Nathan in the ninth inning culminated in a Donaldson walkoff home run and a complete game victory for Kazmir. Tonight, the onus will be on both offenses to get something going. Their previous matchup was no fluke, as these two have been among the best starters in the American League all season long. The starter that can go deeper into the game will also give his team an edge, just as we saw back in May.

Prediction

Sanchez and Nathan get redemption in a one-run Tigers victory.

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