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Game 88 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays

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Matt Boyd makes his first major league start since June 18, and will face his former team.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers might be in trouble. Sure, they're still in second place in the AL Central and three games above .500, but with two losses against the Toronto Blue Jays already in their back pocket, the Tigers need a win. They are 7 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central and three games out of the AL Wild Card. While getting swept in this series isn't a death knell, winning one of the next two games would put them in a much better position heading into the All-Star break.

However, that seems unlikely. The Blue Jays have been destroying fools lately, and are currently riding a seven-game win streak. They own the second-best run differential in the American League, and their pythagorean expected win-loss record is two games better than their current 50-39 mark. After a sluggish start to the season, their offense is starting to get hot again, scoring 56 runs in eight games this month.

That wouldn't be good news for even the best starting rotation, and the Tigers... don't have one of those. Matt Boyd and Anibal Sanchez, owners of ERAs north of 6.00, are Detroit's starters this weekend, and both have been quite homer-prone this season. That's no recipe for success in this building against this team.

Detroit Tigers (45-42) at Toronto Blue Jays (50-39)

Time/Place: 1:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (0-2, 6.44 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (9-1, 2.94 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 29.1 16.3 8.5 5.09 0.2
Sanchez 113.1 21.3 7.5 3.53 2.4

The Tigers saw the very best of Aaron Sanchez earlier this year, floundering at pitch after pitch for eight innings. Sanchez struck out 12, a career-high, and held them to one hit through the first eight frames. Many people (myself included) expected more of the same in the ninth, but the Tigers were able to string together a couple hits and chase him from the game. While the Tigers won that game, they really had no business doing so, as Sanchez was utterly dominant for most of the evening.

Sanchez was tagged for six runs in his very next start, but has returned to being the tour-de-force the Tigers saw on June 7. In his last four starts, Sanchez has limited opponents to five earned runs in 28 innings, a 1.61 ERA. Even more impressive is that all four of those starts came in very hitter-friendly ballparks, including an eight-inning performance at Coors Field in Colorado. Sanchez only has 16 strikeouts during this stretch, but has stayed sharp and only allowed six walks.

It's easy to point at Sanchez's power fastball and plus arsenal as the reasons why he has been so dominant this season, but the improvement in his command is just as important (if not more so). Sanchez is walking just 7.5 percent of batters he has faced this season, a palatable number for a pitcher with his raw tools. His walk rate was routinely in the 11-12 percent range in the minor leagues, but he has tightened things up by throwing first-pitch strikes over 60 percent of the time this season. That first pitch has been huge, as opponents are hitting just .202/.227/.248 when Sanchez gets ahead 0-1. If Sanchez throws ball one, that slash line shoots up to .271/.386/.490.

Hitter to fear: Kevin Pillar (.400/.400/1.000 in 5 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Justin Smoak (.000/.333/.000 in 3 plate appearances)

Pick your poison. The Jays only have a handful of plate appearances against their former teammate, but collectively own a .910 OPS. This is largely thanks to Boyd's erratic command, which resulted in five walks across just 35 plate appearances. Boyd has also coughed up three home runs to Jays hitters. Usual suspects Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki have each homered, while Kevin Pillar has the third. Edwin Encarnacion has a double.

Outlook

This one is easy. The Blue Jays mash left-handed pitching, though some early-season struggles have skewed their numbers a bit. Their powerful lineup has hit 129 home runs, the second-highest total in baseball. Matt Boyd has allowed 17 home runs in 17 career appearances in a Tigers uniform. He has been even worse at Rogers Centre, allowing an 11.37 ERA and 2.05 WHIP in three starts north of the border. This could get ugly.

Prediction

It gets ugly.

★★★

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