The Detroit Tigers enter this weekend series with the Texas Rangers reeling a bit. They’ve lost four straight just as they’d narrowed the gap on the Cleveland Indians. Now, the Tigers take on the American League West-leading Rangers in desperate need of a series victory on the road. They'll have their work cut out for them.
While the Tigers come in depleted by injury and are suddenly scuffling, the Rangers are reinforced and on the verge of running away with their division. The streaking Seattle Mariners will turn into Tigers fans over the next three days as they still sit 6 1/2 games back. Owners of the AL's best record, the Rangers will also have a pair of aces taking the mound in the form of Cole Hamels, and Friday night's starter, Yu Darvish.
Darvish has eight starts under his belt since his return from Tommy John surgery in May. The Rangers shut him down early in June with shoulder issues, but Darvish returned after the All-Star break and resumed his season in superb form. He'll present a tough test for the Tigers' offense as they look to get back on track.
Anibal Sanchez has made a little comeback of his own in recent weeks. He's posted a 3.12 ERA and 2.93 FIP through 26 innings in the second half. Still, it's impossible to feel comfortable with Sanchez taking the mound, particularly on a hot night in Texas. Dealing to the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox is one thing. If Sanchez could produce a decent start Friday night, it would go a long way to convincing a rightly skeptical fan base that the former star has something left to offer.
Detroit Tigers (61-53) at Texas Rangers (68-48)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m. ET, Globe Life Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (6-11, 5.88 ERA) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (2-3, 2.78 ERA)
This is a pretty obvious mismatch in terms of the starting pitchers. While Sanchez has been lost in the wilderness for two solid years, Darvish is dominating beyond anything he's done before. Currently posting the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his MLB career, the Rangers' ace is not really a guy the depleted Tigers' offense needs to face right now.
Darvish's calling card in his MLB career has been his outstanding slow slider, but he packs a punch with his fastball, as well. A big breaking, slow curveball completes the main part of his repertoire, but Darvish packs a splitter and a rarely used changeup to go along with the odd eephus or UFO he might fearlessly spin at a hitter.
Darvish is leaning on his fastball more this year than he did early in his tenure with the Rangers. He has the ability to throw a two-seam, cut fastball or rising four-seam version. While none of them is particularly outstanding, the mix and difficulty in recognizing which is which has increased the total swinging strike rate on his fastballs a little. It's also allowing him to be more efficient than in seasons past. His command also appears improved, as he's cut his typically high walk rates down substantially so far in his short season.
The only flaw in Darvish's game this season has been the long ball, and even then it's not a major weakness in a home run happy AL this year. He's given up five bombs over his last four starts, but in his last outing he shut out a power-hitting Houston Astros' team, scattering just five hits, striking out eight and all without giving up a walk.
Hitter to fear: Adrian Beltre (.700/.727/.900 in 10 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.188/.188/.313 in 16 plate appearances)
Anibal Sanchez has had little success against the Rangers in his career. Over five starts, he holds a 2-3 record, but an ERA of 6.93. That he's only given up four home runs to the Rangers in those starts probably bodes even worse for the Tigers. Even without the home run problems that have made Sanchez an extremely dicey option in recent years, he's struggled with this team. In addition, some of his recent success is predicated on using his four-seam fastball at the top of the zone and inside. If his command isn't on point, the Rangers will absolutely make him pay.
Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler have hit Darvish well in the past, but the rest of the Tigers' bats have struggled against him in limited action. It's tough to imagine the offense we saw in Seattle coming into Texas and knocking Darvish around. Still, the Tigers did hit the ball hard all through the Seattle series without much to show for it. For the Tigers to win, some balls are going to have find the gaps and the seats with runners on-base.
The Tigers' offense breaks out but Sanchez can't hold the lead as the Tigers lose their fifth straight.