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Game 26 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians

Anibal Sanchez takes the mound looking for his second win in a row.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Six days ago, the Anibal Sanchez threat level was approaching DEFCON 2. All was not lost after a rough start against the Cleveland Indians, but many fans were wondering if we were ever going to see the real Anibal Sanchez again.

Well, sort of. Sanchez spun what some would consider his best start of the season, limiting the Oakland Athletics to two runs on three hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out nine, and while he did allow a home run, the A's never really threatened at any point in the game.

The only problem? Sanchez walked seven batters (though it didn't seem like it at the time). His command continues to be shaky, and while it didn't come back to bite him against the A's -- who own the worst wRC+ in the American League, by the way -- a better offense will take advantage of his mistakes.

Based on the numbers, the Indians should not be that team. They strike out at an above average rate, walk at a below average clip, and have the second-lowest home run total in the American League. However, they were able to take advantage of Sanchez's erratic fastball in their last meeting, teeing off for seven runs (six earned) on nine hits in 2 1/3 innings.

Can Sanchez turn things around tonight and deliver Detroit's first win over Cleveland this season?

Detroit Tigers (14-11) at Cleveland Indians (11-12)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-2, 6.08 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (1-3, 4.24 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Sanchez 23.2 23.0 14.2 5.78 -0.1
Kluber 34.0 26.1 3.7 2.69 0.9

Prior to Corey Kluber's start against the Tigers on April 23, he had a 6.16 ERA. While some Tribe fans were ready to declare Kluber washed up after a rough outing against the New York Mets, many others knew better. Eight innings and 10 strikeouts later, the Klubot was back on track.

Kluber followed up his dominant outing in Detroit with another solid effort against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing three runs (two earned) in seven innings while striking out six. He has lowered his ERA by nearly two full runs in his past two starts, with 16 strikeouts and zero walks.

In fact, Kluber's peripheral numbers have been exceptional all season long. His 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the fifth-highest in the American League, and the four pitchers above him (save maybe Taijuan Walker) seem unlikely to sustain their rates all season long. Kluber's 2.68 FIP is fourth-best in the league, a hair better than where he finished in 2015. Other stats like xFIP and SIERA agree that, while Kluber's ERA is a bit high, he has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season.

Hitter to fear: Yan Gomes (.545/.583/1.273 in 12 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.167/.192/.208 in 26 plate appearances)

His results 11 days ago didn't show it, but Sanchez has posted solid numbers against this Indians roster throughout his career. Yan Gomes and Mike Napoli have had their way with him, but Sanchez has effectively limited most of the other Tribe hitters to career rates or lower. Michael Brantley is batting .318 in 22 plate appearances, but with zero power. Jason Kipnis is struggling almost as badly against Sanchez as he has against Justin Verlander. Even Carlos Santana is getting on base at a lower clip than usual.

Outlook

It can't be that bad again, right? Sanchez didn't make it through the third inning of his last start against the Tribe, but season-long statistics suggest that this Indians lineup shouldn't pose a major threat to Sanchez's erratic tendencies. They have one of the higher swinging strike rates in the American League, and make contact with pitches in the strike zone at a below average rate. While their fly ball tendencies could pose a threat to the homer-happy Sanchez, the numbers suggest that he should be better in this game.

Now if only he didn't have to face Corey Kluber...

Prediction

Sanchez pitches well but Kluber pitches better and Cleveland wins again.

★★★

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