Detroit Tigers (62–50) at Toronto Blue Jays (61–55)
Time/Place: 7:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (8–5, 3.37 ERA) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (9–11, 4.03 ERA)
The Tigers are currently in first place, 2½ games ahead of the Kansas City Royals. The Blue Jays are tied with the New York Yankees, in second place, five games behind first place Baltimore, one half game behind the Royals for the final wild card spot in the American League.
R.A. Dickey's Cy Young season came out of nowhere in 2012, while pitching for the New York Mets. Dickey had been around the game, pitching for the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, and Minnesota Twins. He developed and perfected the knuckleball, and was the only starting pitcher in the major leagues to use it as his primary pitch, and became the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young award that season.
Dickey won 20 games in 2012, with five complete games, three shutouts, and struck out 230 batters while posting an ERA of 2.32 and a WHIP of 1.05. He started the All Star game for the National League and was given the Cy Young award, edging out Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Mets decided to sell high on Dickey, despite a favorable contract for the 2013 season, trading him to the Blue Jays in a seven player deal. The Jays gave him a two year, $25 million contract extension, but he has struggled to keep his ERA under 4.00 since coming to the American League. He continues to be a decent mid-rotation starter, but not nearly the dominant pitcher that he was in his one year heyday.
Anibal Sanchez led the American League in ERA in 2013, but was over shadowed by a pair of Cy Young winning team mates, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Despite a rough month of July which saw his ERA climb to 3.37 for the season, he remains one of the best starting pitchers in the American League in 2014.
Sanchez has been victimized by poor defense and a bad bullpen, as indicated by the fact that his fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 2.72 ranks seventh in the league and best on his team. He has, at times, struggled to get past the sixth inning, seeing a sharp spike in hits allowed after six innings, 100 pitches, or the third time through the batting order. Bullpen avoidance has not been his strength this season.
Sanchez still maintains one of the best home run ratios in the game, while his strikeout and walk rates are down from last season. He doesn't allow many runners and keeps the ball in the park. He threw seven scoreless innings in his last start, against the Colorado Rockies, ending a stretch of games where he struggled to keep runs off the board.
Offensively, the Tigers and Jays find themselves near the top of the league in run production, ranking third and fourth in runs per game, respectively. They rank first and second in batting average and are co-leaders in on base percentage. The Jays' attack is led by All Stars Jose Bautista. Edwin Encarnacion, who is on the disabled list currently, is not expected to be back for another few days.
The Tigers have struggled to score runs since the all star break, with Austin Jackson traded, Torii Hunter out with a swollen left hand, and with J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos slumping badly at the plate.
Hitter to fear: Melky Cabrera is 10 for 21 in his career vs Sanchez, with a batting line of .476/.476/.476 for an OPS of .952.
Hitter to fail: Jose Bautista is just 1 for 8 with a pair of strikeouts and a line of .125/.222/.125/.347.
Sanchez needs to find a way to get more innings out of his work, and the Jays need to work the count and get into the meaty Tiger bullpen. The Tigers need Miguel Cabrera to carry the offense, with the absence of Austin Jackson and Eugenio Suarez, and J.D. Martinez missing in action.
Tigers get to Dickey in a big inning, Sanchez shuts down the Jays and the bullpen scrapes out another save for Nathan.