Detroit Tigers (52-42) at Kansas City Royals (43-49)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (7-6, 2.93 ERA) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (5-6, 3.37 ERA)
The Tigers have avoided Santana so far in 2013, but it will be hard to miss the 30 year old righty going forward with 14 meetings still left between these two clubs. Santana has pitched well against the Tigers throughout his career, even when he hasn't pitched so well against the rest of the league. He is 6-3 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.115 WHIP, and 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio against them in 11 starts, including a 3.66 ERA in three starts in 2012.
In 2013, Santana has cut his walk rate dramatically to under two batters per nine innings. He is allowing just under a hit per inning and 1.2 home runs per nine innings -- both of which are close to his career norms -- but the lack of walks has helped him raise his strand rate back up to the 75% range that he achieved in 2010 and 2011.
Left-handed batters are hitting a surprisingly low .225/.280/.333 with just five home runs off Santana this season. Throughout his career, lefties have a 70 point advantage in OPS compared to righties. Santana's BABIP platoon splits for 2013 are nearly identical, and he hasn't changed his repertoire or pitch selection against them. His changeup has simply been more effective. Last season, lefties hit .290 off the changeup with a .237 ISO. This season, those figures are down to .270 and .054, respectively.
The All-Star Break couldn't have come at a better time for Sanchez, who didn't look 100% healthy in his last start against the Chicago White Sox. He was dancing out of trouble all afternoon -- allowing an un-Anibal-like three walks didn't help -- and left in the sixth inning after allowing five runs (four earned).
Old school-minded fans may scoff, but I question the jump in his pitch count. In his previous start five days earlier, Sanchez only threw 71 pitches. Against the White Sox, Sanchez threw 102 pitches, many of which were high stress. He looked gassed after throwing 14 pitches to the first three batters of the sixth inning, and the next two batters made him pay. Had the Tigers stuck to a pitch count of around 90 pitches -- Sanchez could have used the conditioning after missing almost a month -- they may have gotten out of that inning in much better shape.
Tonight, Santana just needs to keep doing what he has been doing all season long: limiting baserunners. Allowing home runs is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point for the 30 year old Dominican, but solo shots don't hurt as much as three run blasts. Add in that he has allowed 12 of his 16 home runs this year at home, and I wouldn't be surprised to see at least a couple Tigers dingers tonight.
As for Sanchez, it will be interesting to see if being snubbed from the All-Star team will pay off in the second half. More rest for that right shoulder is always a good thing, and if the rest of the rotation continues to pitch well it would behoove Jim Leyland to give Sanchez the occasional break down the stretch. Getting innings out of him now is important, but not as important as he will be come October.
Santana silences the Tigers bats and the Royals take the first game of the series.