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Game 51 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Los Angeles Angels

Anibal Sanchez looks to snap the Tigers' four-game losing streak on Tuesday against Los Angeles' Hector Santiago.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It's mystifying, really. The Tigers, try as they might, just cannot win in Anaheim. Justin Verlander delivered a masterful performance through seven innings on Monday evening, but was matched pitch-for-pitch by Angels starter Jhoulys Chacin. Then, after things got weird in the eighth, the Tigers faced an unsurmountable five-run deficit.

This happens all the time in this beautiful game we love, but it seems to happen even more often whenever the Tigers arrive in Anaheim. Rick Porcello knows this all too well, after failing to make it out of the first inning in a start a few years ago. Verlander himself has seen a few excellent performances dashed by an opposing starter, and Tuesday starter Anibal Sanchez fell victim to the same fate in 2015.

In fact, it was this same matchup. Sanchez worked seven excellent innings, striking out nine while allowing a pair of runs. However, Hector Santiago was better, limiting the Tigers offense to just three hits and three walks in 7 1/3 shutout innings. Can the Tigers reverse their fate on Tuesday? Or will their Anaheim woes continue?

Detroit Tigers (24-26) at Los Angeles Angels (23-28)

Time/Place: 10:05 p.m., Angels Stadium of Anaheim
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-6, 6.04 ERA) vs. LHP Hector Santiago (3-3, 4.58 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Sanchez 53.2 19.8 11.2 5.61 0.0
Santiago 55.0 18.5 9.1 5.40 -0.1

Lefthander Hector Santiago put up one of the oddest seasons you will ever see in 2015. Through his first 20 starts, he was dominant, holding opponents to a 2.43 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He made the American League All-Star team and, were it not for a few too many no-decisions, may have been a dark horse candidate for a competitive AL Cy Young Award. However, things fell apart soon after. He allowed a 5.78 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in his final 13 starts, ballooning his once-shiny ERA by over a full run. At year's end, his 3.59 ERA and 1.26 WHIP fell close to his otherwise serviceable career norms.

There were some definite oddities, though. Santiago's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) actually went down over those final 13 starts, from .263 to .239. Part of this was a rise in home run rate -- he allowed 15 of his 29 home runs after this arbitrary 20-start benchmark -- but part seemed to just be dumb luck. His line drive rate fell to just 12.8 percent down the stretch, while his rising fly ball rate was his undoing. Worst of all, the rise in home run rate wasn't unsustainable, as just 13 percent of fly balls he allowed down the stretch went over the fence.

There were legitimate causes for concern, though, and those seem to have continued into 2016. His strikeout rate dropped from 22.7 percent in his first 20 starts of 2015 to just 17.7 percent afterward, and he is hovering at 18.5 percent this season. His walk rate has dropped somewhat in 2016, but at 9.1 percent is still higher than the manageable 7.7 percent he had during his brief 2015 heyday. His line drive rate is just 12.3 percent so far this year, but one would expect that to trend much closer to the league average (20.4 percent) as the season goes on.

Hitter to fear: Albert Pujols (.318/.348/.545 in 23 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Johnny Giavotella (.000/.100/.000 in 10 plate appearances)

Facing a team with as much offensive firepower as the Angels isn't a great situation for any pitcher, but Anibal Sanchez has made do. He has allowed a 2.60 ERA and .741 OPS in four career starts against the Halos, but as os often the case when the Tigers face Los Angeles, he has an 0-3 record. Albert Pujols has done plenty of damage against Sanchez throughout their respective careers, but Pujols' recent numbers (including a home run in 2015) are even better than those during his St. Louis heyday. Yunel Escobar has also fared well, reaching base 12 times in 31 plate appearances.

Outlook

As the Tigers saw in a few instances on Monday, fly balls do not carry well in Angels Stadium at night. This is bad news against an extreme fly ball pitcher like Hector Santiago, who has forced 47.9 percent of all balls in play into the air throughout his career. Only seven qualified pitchers have a fly ball rate higher than Santiago's 45.1 percent clip this season. Luckily, Anibal Sanchez isn't far behind at 44.4 percent, but he has his own demons to worry about. The Tigers need him to be better if they are going to snap their losing streak tonight, but recent trends don't bode well for their chances.

Prediction

Sanchez falters the third time through the lineup yet again.

★★★

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