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Game 94 Preview: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers

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Anibal Sanchez takes the mound looking to snap a nine-start losing streak.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

You could say that the Detroit Tigers are playing with fire by starting Anibal Sanchez, but the reality is that they have already been burned multiple times over. I pointed out just how bad Sanchez has been this season on Monday, but here's the quick-and-dirty version: the Tigers have lost Sanchez's last nine starts, and he has allowed four runs or more in all of them.

Now, some may say that Sanchez is in a great position to succeed in this matchup because he is facing the lowly Minnesota Twins, who have been a below average offensive team this season. However, they are not the worst club in the AL -- their 93 wRC+ is actually tied with the first-place Texas Rangers -- and they have been much better lately. Over the past 30 days, the Twins lead the American League with 142 runs scored, and their 115 wRC+ is tied for second.

It takes a team effort to post strong numbers like that, but the surge has been led by the Twins' young players. Max Kepler is slugging .578 during this 30-day stretch, and Miguel Sano looks more like the destroyer of worlds he was in 2015. Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas have chipped in in small doses as well.

Can Sanchez keep the Twins' young bats at bay? Or will recent trends continue for the beleaguered righthander?

Minnesota Twins (33-59) at Detroit Tigers (49-44)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tommy Milone (2-2, 5.23 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-10, 6.75 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Milone 41.1 15.3 7.7 5.09 0.1
Sanchez 82.2 19.0 10.5 5.60 0.0

It has been a rough year for Tommy Milone. After posting a serviceable 1.5 fWAR in 128 2/3 innings for the Twins last season, he got off to a slow start in 2016. Opponents hit .292/.344/.506 off him in his first five starts, resulting in a 5.79 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Metrics like xFIP were a bit more forgiving at that time, as his home run rate was much higher than in any previous season of his career. The Twins' brass must have seen something they didn't like, and they outrighted him to Triple-A Rochester.

This was nothing new for Milone. He was sent down to Triple-A after a similar sluggish start in 2015, and dominated for a few starts before being recalled to the majors. Milone followed this same pattern in 2016, holding Triple-A opponents to a 1.66 ERA and 41:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 2/3 innings. Was there a mechanical adjustment? Is the Twins' Triple-A staff better at getting through to Milone? Are minor league hitters simply baffled by a lefty with a breaking ball? We can't say for sure, but there may be a pattern here for the 29-year-old southpaw.

Unfortunately for the Twins, that dominance in the minors hasn't translated to the major league level. Milone got hot for a stretch after returning to the bigs in 2015, but has not found that groove this season. He has a 4.50 ERA and just nine strikeouts to seven walks in four starts since being recalled on June 18. His last two starts have been better, but he has faced two of the worst offenses in the league in the Rangers and Athletics. The Tigers will be the first above average offense (per wRC+) Milone has seen since facing the Cleveland Indians on April 25.

Hitter to fear: Danny Santana (.429/.429/.429 in 14 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brian Dozier (.100/.182/.100 in 22 plate appearances)

If there's one silver lining for this matchup, it's that Sanchez has had a lot of success against the Twins in his career. He has limited them to a 2.32 ERA in 13 meetings, and was even able to hold them down in an otherwise disastrous 2015 season. The Twins hit just .218/.247/.244 off Sanchez last year. Veterans like Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer have struggled against him throughout their careers, and Eduardo Escobar (2-for-12) has followed suit thus far.

Outlook

This game could go just about any way imaginable, but it's hard to see the Tigers getting much out of Anibal Sanchez at this point. He has been absolutely torched in his last several starts, and while the offense hasn't shown up for him at times, he hasn't pitched well enough to warrant a win. Speaking of the offense, they will need to figure out a way to solve Milone, who is 3-1 with a 3.82 ERA in seven career meetings against them. Given their recent struggles -- especially those from the middle of the batting order -- the Tigers are facing an uphill battle.

Prediction

The Tigers lose their 10th consecutive Anibal Sanchez start.

★★★

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