New York Yankees (8-7) at Detroit Tigers (11-4)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Pinstripe Alley
Pitching Matchup: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.94 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (1-2, 7.71 ERA)
Masahiro Tanaka took the American League by storm in 2014, holding opponents to a 2.51 ERA in 18 first half starts. The Yankees, who had downplayed Tanaka's role with the team prior to the season, appeared to have found their next ace. Tanaka's seven-year, $155 million contract quickly transformed from a burden to a bargain, and he was a frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award.
Then, disaster struck. After allowing five runs on 10 hits against the Cleveland Indians on July 8, Tanaka flew back to New York the next day for an MRI on his right elbow. He was placed on the disabled list, and was eventually diagnosedwith a partially torn UCL. Tanaka and the Yankees opted to rehab the injury without surgery, and Tanaka returned for two outings in late September. Since he was on the disabled list throughout all of August, the Tigers never had a chance to face him in 2014.
Tanaka's elbow was a point of contention throughout the offseason and spring training, but early returns indicate that he can be just as effective in 2015. He has lost a little velocity on his fastball and isn't throwing his devastating splitter as often so far this year -- he's using his grounder-inducing cutter a bit more often instead -- but he is coming off seven sharp shutout innings against the Tampa Bay Rays five days ago.
Anibal Sanchez has had recent issues of his own, but the trajectory of his 2015 season is the exact opposite of Tanaka's. After a scoreless outing to start the year, Sanchez has given up 14 runs on 17 hits in his last two starts. This includes five home runs, one more than his entire 2014 total.
Sanchez was adamant that he is not injured, nor does he feel any pain stemming from last season's shoulder issue that sidelined him in the second half. Instead, it seems to be a mechanical issue. "I talked to Jonesy about it," Brad Ausmus said about his starter. "I don't want to get into the specifics. He did a couple bullpen sessions. The best way to describe it was working everything toward home plate, as opposed to maybe a little bit laterally."
Hitter to fear: Carlos Beltran (.333/.333/.476 in 24 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alex Rodriguez (.000/.000/.000 in 6 plate appearances)
Sanchez has not seen much of the Yankees since putting on a Tigers uniform. He too was sidelined when these two teams faced off last August, and he only made one start against them in 2013, holding them to two runs in seven innings. His outing against them in the 2012 regular season wasn't pretty -- he gave up seven runs in three innings -- but he bounced back to throw seven shutout innings in the 2012 ALCS. The current Yankees roster has struggled against him, hitting just .227/.276/.348 in 145 plate appearances. Only Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are hitting above .250 in five or more plate appearances against Sanchez.
This game could go any number of ways, and after how weird the first three games in this series have been, not much would surprise me. Both Tanaka and Sanchez have the ability to shut down an opposing lineup, even ones as formidable as the respective batting orders they will be facing today. However, it could also turn into a slugfest. Tanaka looked hittable in his first two starts of the year, while Sanchez has struggled to get hitters out in his last two outings. Both teams need their frontline starters to act as such, and a strong start from Sanchez would go a long way in allaying the concerns developing about the Tigers over the past few days.
Sanchez improves, but Tanaka shines and the Yankees take three of four.
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