Kansas City Royals (63-43) at Detroit Tigers (52-55)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yordano Ventura (6-7, 4.98 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (10-9, 4.77 ERA)
Yordano Ventura has had trouble staying on the field in 2015. No, I'm not referring to his early-season dust-ups with opposing teams -- though, to be fair, he was ejected a couple times -- but to his lackluster performance since early June. Ventura only made two starts in June, a pair of three-inning outings that preluded a trip to the disabled list for ulnar neuritis. Since returning to action in July, Ventura has made four major league starts, allowing a 5.87 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. Tigers starter Shane Greene had a similar injury earlier this season, but unlike Greene, Ventura's fastball velocity has not dipped at any point this season.
After a stellar rookie season in 2014, Ventura was expected to shoulder more of the load in 2015 after James Shields' departure. There have been signs of improvement from the 24-year-old Dominican, such as a decrease in walk rate and more swings and misses on his offspeed pitches. However, those positive signs have been more than offset by a fastball that isn't quite as sharp as it was in 2014. Ventura's velocity hasn't changed one iota, but opponents are batting .301 with 23 extra-base hits off his fastball this season after hitting just .262 against it last season. Sometimes this can be a fluke, but there are signs that opponents are seeing the ball better. Ventura isn't generating as many swings and misses with the heater, and the line drive rate on his four-seamer has gone from 24.7 percent in 2014 to 37 percent this year.
Anibal Sanchez looked to be getting back on track after winning seven consecutive decisions, but he has suffered a bit of a setback lately. Sanchez was tagged for three runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 27, a lackluster 5-2 loss. Five days later, the Baltimore Orioles rekindled Sanchez's home run woes with two bombs, resulting in six total runs. The overall damage? Nine runs on 17 hits in his last two starts.
All season long, we have swept Sanchez's home run troubles under the bus. A starter that allowed just 21 home runs in a Tigers uniform prior to 2015 couldn't possibly give up 24 homers in one season, so clearly this is unsustainable, right? Not so fast. Sanchez has been leaving the ball up more, particularly when throwing his fastball. Opponents are hitting more fly balls than ever off him, and 14.7 percent of those fly balls are leaving the park. While this number is high, it's not astronomical (and is much higher than Sanchez's career rate). However, an uptick in fly balls, especially those due to a good-not-great fastball, will naturally lead to more homers.
Hitter to fear: Alcides Escobar (.320/.320/.440 in 25 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jarrod Dyson (.125/.160/.167 in 25 plate appearances)
Anibal Sanchez has been dynamite against the Royals in his career, holding them to a 1.98 ERA and .568 OPS in nine starts. No Royals hitter has an OPS above .774 against him, and only two (Alcides Escobar and Kendrys Morales) are even north of .700. This is a different Royals team, however, and they have treated Sanchez like it so far this year. He nearly made it through eight flawless innings in his first start against them, eventually letting in three runs before departing on May 3. Six days later, the Royals roughed him up for six runs (five earned) on nine hits in five innings. Sanchez has only allowed one home run to a Royals hitter this year, but has just six strikeouts to four walks.
They may have looked good during the Baltimore series, but the Tigers' offense is finally starting to feel the effects of Miguel Cabrera's absence. The Tigers have scored 42 runs in their last 13 games, which spans their entire 10-game road swing up and down the east coast. The offense, plagued both by Cabrera's injury and Victor Martinez's ineffective play, has been held to two runs or fewer in nine of those 13 games. Ian Kinsler has remained hot, but few others have, and the team is struggling to put runs up on the board. Despite Ventura's recent struggles, he poses a stiff test, especially for an offense currently as hapless as the one in Detroit.
Sanchez rebounds but the bullpen blows a late lead.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 one-day fantasy baseball league today. It's $3 to join and first place wins $8,000. Enter now!