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Game 120 Preview: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

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Anibal Sanchez hopes to shake off his most recent outing.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Everything was going right for the Detroit Tigers: a sweep in Boston, a sweep against Houston, series wins against the White Sox and Mets. A six-game deficit in the AL Central on July 24 was narrowed down to just two games a couple weeks later, and the Tigers actually found themselves in the last playoff spot. But as quickly as everything seemed to come together, it all came unraveling even faster.

Anibal Sanchez's experience in the rotation has followed a similar progression. Brought back into a starter slot out of necessity, his first two outings were horrendous. However, Sanchez posted a 3.12 ERA and 2.64 FIP over his next four starts, throwing at least six innings during each outing. He looked great in a one-run, 10-strikeout effort against the Mets, leading some to believe that he had turned the corner.

Unfortunately, that progress was completely undone in his last start against the Rangers; Sanchez surrendered four home runs in just four innings, giving up eight earned runs in total. With Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey still on the disabled list, the Tigers do not have many options other than Sanchez, so expect him to continue to make starts. Just hope that the offense can score some runs while he is on the mound.

Can Sanchez and the Tigers avoid the sweep?

Kansas City Royals (59-60) at Detroit Tigers (63-56)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m. ET, Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yordano Ventura (8-9, 4.60 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (6-12, 6.31 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Ventura 133.0 17.7 9.6 4.80 0.8
Sanchez 112.2 20.4 9.2 5.26 0.4

The 2016 season has not gone how Yordano Ventura or the Royals envisioned it. The young flamethrower has shown more heat in his temper than his fastball and has taken a few steps back statistically. While his numbers this season are not awful, they do represent a bit of a decline. After a 3.61 ERA and 3.59 FIP in his first two seasons, he has fallen back to a 4.60 ERA and 4.80 FIP in 2016.

Most notably, the strikeouts have taken a dive. His 8.19 strikeouts per nine innings from 2014 and 2015 has become just 6.83 strikeouts per nine this season. Part of this is due to a drop in velocity on his fastball, which has moved from 97.7 miles per hour to 96.9 mph, and a corresponding decrease in whiff rate, which has dropped from 9.1 percent to 6.9 percent. Overall, hitters are making better contact against him in 2016, recording a 33.5 percent hard contact rate, much higher than his 28.8 percent career average.

Though this season has not been great for Ventura, he does seem to have the Tigers' number. In three starts against Detroit this season, Ventura has pitched 18 1/3 innings with just a 1.96 ERA and 7.86 strikeouts per nine. His most recent encounter was a seven-inning, two-run no-decision where he was victimized by a questionable balk. Since that game he has pitched fairly well, owning a 3.41 ERA and 7.39 strikeouts per nine innings, although he has allowed six homers during his last five starts.

Hitter to fear: Eric Hosmer (.294/.333/.471 in 36 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Salvador Perez (.200/.274/.200 in 22 plate appearances)

Few Royals have been exceptionally great or poor against Sanchez. Over the course of his career, Sanchez has made 11 starts against Kansas City with a 2.76 ERA. His only appearance against the Royals in 2016 came out of the bullpen in June. He allowed four hits and one run in 2 1/3 innings pitched.

Outlook

Normally when teams lose four or five key pieces to injury, the idea is to simply tread water until they return. But with the end of the season rapidly approaching and the gaps in the standings not getting any smaller, the Tigers do not really have that luxury. Winning games that Sanchez starts are going to be tall tasks, but sooner or later the Tigers need to get it going if they want to survive into October. As long as he remains in the rotation, the burden is going to fall on the offense.

Prediction

Sanchez looks a little better, but still gives up a homer or two in yet another loss.