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Game 89 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays

Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers look to close out the first half of the season with a win.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Okay, so I was wrong. We were all wrong. Not many people expected the Detroit Tigers to beat the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend -- FiveThirtyEight gave them a 35 percent chance of winning on Saturday, microscopic odds for a single baseball game -- but the Tigers pulled out a gutsy 3-2 win that guaranteed them a winning record on their current road trip. With how the first two games in this series had gone, it was arguably their biggest win of the season.

But I'm not ready to buy in for a second day in a row. Saturday starter Matt Boyd has shown signs of promise, dominating second-tier lineups for innings at a time. What he did against the Blue Jays was surprising, yes, but not jaw-dropping. He was a bit inefficient, and still started to wilt the third time through the order.

Anibal Sanchez, on the other hand, hasn't shown an ounce of that same promise this year. With a 6.52 ERA and some brutal efforts in his last few starts, the 32-year-old righthander seems to be on his last legs as a major league pitcher. His numbers in the bullpen have been decent, but Sanchez didn't seem long for the rotation after allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Cleveland Indians five days ago.

Will Sanchez pull a rabbit out of his hat for the Tigers today? Or will the Blue Jays finally feast on the Tigers' subpar starting rotation?

Detroit Tigers (46-42) at Toronto Blue Jays (50-40)

Time/Place: 1:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-9, 6.52 ERA) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (6-9, 4.10 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Sanchez 78.2 18.5 10.5 5.66 0.0
Dickey 109.2 17.0 8.3 5.22 0.5

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was having a bit of an up-and-down season through the first two months of the year, but seems to have gotten things under control. He sported a 4.64 ERA through his first 11 starts, in which the Jays were an abysmal 2-9. Since June 1, Dickey has limited opponents to a 3.30 ERA. This includes a start against the Tigers on June 8; the Tigers managed nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, but could only plate two runs in a 7-2 loss. Since that start, he has 25 strikeouts to nine walks in 31 2/3 innings.

Oddly, Dickey's home run rate has gone up during this hot stretch. He has given up a whopping 11 home runs in his last six starts, including four in one game against the Chicago White Sox on June 25. His improved walk rate has helped keep runners off the bases, but opponents are still hitting .255/.320/.521 off him in the past month and change. His 4.95 xFIP and 4.91 SIERA suggest that things won't stay this way for long, and his numbers are worse at home than they are on the road -- an understandable split given how unforgiving Rogers Centre's small dimensions can be for fly ball pitchers.

Hitter to fear: Edwin Encarnacion (.250/.333/.500 in 18 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Justin Smoak (.000/.077/.000 in 13 plate appearances)

Sanchez has posted solid numbers against the Blue Jays throughout his career. In nine appearances (seven starts), he has limited them to batting just .231/.284/.347 with three home runs. The current roster is hitting slightly better at .234/.291/.347, with home runs from Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. Only Ezequiel Carrera is hitting above .300 in more than 10 plate appearances.

However, most of those numbers have been tallied away from Rogers Centre. In two career starts in Toronto, Sanchez has allowed a .980 OPS and 6.75 ERA. One of those starts was a wild 5-4 Tigers win in 2014, while the other came in Sanchez's Tigers debut back in 2012. He allowed three home runs in that game, a 5-1 loss.


Win or lose, the Tigers have put themselves in a solid position heading into the All-Star break. They have already clinched a winning record on a grueling 11-game road trip that covered a few tough venues (not to mention a long flight to Florida and a trip north of the border). They're still looking way up at the Indians in the standings, but are within arm's reach of the AL Wild Card with a favorable schedule in the second half. If they can get healthy and bolster the pitching staff for a stretch run, this season could be more successful than we originally anticipated.

Just remember to think of it that way after Sanchez gets battered by the Blue Jays offense this afternoon.


The Tigers fall in a high-scoring matchup.


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