Detroit Tigers (6-0) at Pittsburgh Pirates (2-4)
Time/Place: 1:35 p.m., PNC Park
SB Nation blog: Bucs Dugout
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (0-0, 5.40 ERA)
The Pirates have high expectations for Gerrit Cole. A big righthander drafted with the first overall pick of the 2011 draft, Cole's major league debut in 2013 was celebrated by Pirates fans and prospect aficionados alike. Cole allowed a 3.22 ERA and 2.91 FIP in 117 1/3 innings and seemed destined to join baseball's elite aces in a year or two. Cole struck out a batter per inning last season and finished the year with a 3.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but it still felt like a disappointment. He was limited to just 138 innings due to a couple stints on the disabled list, and his 3.65 ERA was more befitting of a mid-rotation starter.
This has spawned some conspiracy theories about Cole, notably if the Pirates' efficient pitch-to-contact philosophy is "ruining" Cole's chances at ascending to ace-dom. Cole's 49 percent ground ball rate and low walk rate lend some credence to these ideas, but I'm not buying them yet. Max Scherzer had similar difficulties (minus the injuries) in his first full season, and finished the year with peripherals eerily similar to Cole's. Scherzer had a much higher whiff rate, but Cole's strikeout rate was slightly higher with a much lower walk rate, resulting in a better overall ERA and FIP.
Cole may never take that next step like Scherzer has, but he has the raw stuff and potential to shut down an opposing lineup at any time. Cole's fastball averaged 96.7 miles per hour last year, and he threw it nearly two-thirds of the time. All three of his offspeed pitches generated whiff rates of 14.6 percent or better, led by the wipeout slider at 21 percent. He pitched better in the spacious confines of PNC Park last season, allowing a 3.39 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 11 home starts. Oddly enough, seven of the 11 home runs he allowed last season came at home, but opposing batters had just a .660 OPS in 282 plate appearances.
Anibal Sanchez held the Minnesota Twins scoreless in his first outing of the year, but he struggled in the middle innings after a very efficient start to the game. He threw 41 of his 101 pitches in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing a double in the sixth and two walks in the seventh before leaving the game. This may be nothing more than a bit of early season fatigue, but Sanchez struggled to get through an opposing lineup multiple times last season. Opposing batters hit .280/.321/.392 against him the third time through the order last season, a 134-point jump in OPS compared to the second time through the lineup. Sanchez's arsenal is too diverse to have that big of a drop-off the third time through the lineup -- he actually got better as the game went along in 2013 -- so it will be interesting to see how he fares in his next few outings.
Hitter to fear: Corey Hart (.467/.500/1.000 in 16 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Andrew McCutchen (.286/.313/.286 in 16 plate appearances)
Sanchez has excellent career numbers against the Pirates from his time in the National League, but a good number of those starts came before their renaissance in the past few years. Even the longest tenured Pirates, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, have only seen Sanchez a handful of times in their careers. All four of McCutchen's hits in 14 at-bats are singles, while Walker has doubled and homered. Former Brewers outfielder Corey Hart has done the most damage against Sanchez, doubling and homering twice in 15 at-bats. Sanchez last faced the Pirates in 2013, when he gave up five runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
The Tigers are going to lose a game at some point this season, but we have reached the point where it will actually be a bit disappointing when they do. They are off to their best start since 1985, and one more win brings the inevitable comparison to the 1984 championship team that started 9-0. It's a bit unfair to lump those types of expectations on this squad -- remember how unsure we were about this team last Monday? -- but they seem to be handling it well. Getting one win out of this series will guarantee a winning record on this short road trip, but it's hard not to be excited for more. Look for more aggressive swings against the Pirates' fastball-heavy approach today.
The Tigers stay hot and ruin another home opener, moving to 7-0 on the season.
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Anibal Sanchez, P
- Josh Harrison, 3B
- Gregory Polanco, RF
- Andrew McCutchen, CF
- Neil Walker, 2B
- Starling Marte, LF
- Pedro Alvarez, 1B
- Francisco Cervelli, C
- Jordy Mercer, SS
- Gerrit Cole, P
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