The Detroit Tigers' decision to stand pat at Monday's non-waiver trade deadline did not sit well with some fans, but the talk throughout baseball is that asking prices for middling starters were far too high to get deals done. The Philadelphia Phillies were asking for the moon for Jeremy Hellickson, while the Los Angeles Angels nabbed a former top prospect (and a Ricky Nolasco) in exchange for Hector Santiago. Paying through the nose wasn't in the Tigers' best interests.
At least, not until you look at Tuesday's pitching matchup. Anibal Sanchez will take the mound for his fifth start since July 1, a total that seems quite high for a pitcher with an ERA over 6.00. He has just one quality start during that stretch, a 10-strikeout performance against a Minnesota Twins lineup that he has dominated throughout his career. In the other three starts, Sanchez has allowed 12 runs on 23 hits in 14 1/3 innings. He faced these same White Sox nine days ago and surrendered four runs on 10 hits in six innings.
The baffling part is that the Tigers have another option available in Daniel Norris. While the young lefthander struggled at times in his rehab starts, he threw 95 pitches in an outing for Double-A Erie last Thursday and would enter Tuesday on full rest. Norris' major league numbers aren't excellent thus far, but he still sports an ERA nearly two runs below Sanchez's.
Instead, we are left to hope that Sanchez will somehow produce better results than anything we have seen from him over the last 15 months as the Tigers try to chase down other teams in the AL playoff hunt.
Chicago White Sox (51-54) at Detroit Tigers (57-48)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP James Shields (5-12, 4.68 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-11, 6.56 ERA)
Before his start against the Tigers on July 21, I tried to poke holes in the theory that James Shields was actually pitching better. If you include his last two starts, Shields has 24 strikeouts to 16 walks in a 47-inning stretch, and is relying on a .218 BABIP to keep runs off the board. His FIP during these last seven starts is 4.79, and his xFIP is up to 5.28. Everything here suggests Shields is heading for some hard regression at any moment.
But something is working at the moment, though. Shields held the Tigers to two runs in six innings in their last meeting, a 2-1 Tigers victory for Mike Pelfrey's third win of the season. Shields then shut out the Chicago Cubs for 7 2/3 innings, limiting them to just four hits and four walks. He hasn't varied his pitch usage much, but his fly ball rate has trended upward and he has induced a rash of pop-ups well above his career rate.
It probably shouldn't continue, though. Shields hasn't varied his pitch usage, velocity, or location to explain such a measurable difference in his performance from his early starts with the Sox to this new level of excellence. The real sum of his abilities is probably somewhere in the middle, so until that gaudy 94.2 percent strand rate corrects itself, we may be in for another frustrating game.
Hitter to fear: Jose Abreu (.571/.625/1.143 in 16 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Todd Frazier (.143/.125/.143 in 8 plate appearances)
The White Sox abused Sanchez in two meetings last season, scoring 13 runs on 15 hits in 10 1/3 innings. Most of those came in a disastrous nine-run outing on April 18, a harbinger of the doom to follow throughout the season. Three of Chicago's top hitters have an OPS of .950 or better against Sanchez, including Jose Abreu's 1.768 OPS in 16 plate appearances. Melky Cabrera is a staggering 15-for-34, while Adam Eaton has been an all-around pest against Tigers pitching throughout his career. Every Sox batter with at least 10 career plate appearances against Sanchez is hitting .250 or better.
The decision to start Sanchez seems baffling, but it should be repeated that the Tigers always, always, always know more than some guy sitting at home with an MLB.TV subscription and a laptop. However, unless there's some sort of breakthrough we're not seeing, continuing to start Sanchez is akin to banging one's head against a wall. The Tigers haven't won a Sanchez start since April, and while there are run support caveats abound -- the Tigers have scored eight combined runs in his last five starts -- he isn't putting the team in a position to win games.
Maybe this game is different? Only the Kansas City Royals scored fewer runs than the White Sox in July. I'm not convinced, though.
Sanchez doesn't make it through five innings.
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