Minnesota Twins (54-91) at Detroit Tigers (77-67)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Tyler Duffey (8-11, 6.13 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (7-13, 5.69 ERA)
The 2016 season has not been a good one for Tyler Duffey. He started out strong, holding opponents to just five earned runs in his first four starts. The Twins lost three of those four games (including a seven-strikeout performance against the Tigers on April 30), but it was largely no fault of Duffey’s. With a 1.85 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 24 1⁄3 innings, he seemed poised to build on a solid rookie campaign in 2015.
Then the bottom fell out. Duffey gave up five runs in each of his next three starts, and four or more in seven consecutive outings. His ERA ballooned from 1.85 to 6.18. His strikeout rate dropped slightly during that stretch, but he still maintained a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents just hit him harder, including nine home runs in that seven-start stretch.
Things haven’t gotten much better since then, either. While he has mixed in some solid starts over the past few months, Duffey still has an ERA above 6. He has given up five runs or more in 12 of his 23 starts this season, and is allowing much more hard contact than before. Opponents have a 23.2 percent line drive rate against Duffey this season, up from 19.4 percent in 2015. They are pulling the ball more often, and his home run rate has nearly tripled!
The biggest difference from 2015 to 2016 might be in how batters are approaching him. Last season, opponents made contact on just 78.5 percent of the pitches Duffey threw. He generated an excellent 18.1 percent swinging strike rate on his curveball, a pitch he threw nearly 40 percent of the time. This season, Duffey is still throwing that curveball 37 percent of the time, but opponents aren’t swinging and missing nearly as often. Part of that is location — he isn’t burying the curve in the dirt as well as he did in 2015 — and part of that is better pitch recognition.
Hitter to fear: Kurt Suzuki (.455/.500/.455 in 13 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brian Dozier (.154/.214/.269 in 28 plate appearances)
Anibal Sanchez has not had much trouble with the Twins this season. Sure, his 4.15 ERA in two starts isn’t the best, but compared to his season-long numbers (don’t look up), it’s a pretty strong sample. Sanchez struck out 10 in a strong six-inning performance on July 19, and held them in check for seven innings on August 23. This is par for the course for Sanchez, who has held Minnesota to a 2.60 ERA and .576 OPS in 15 career meetings.
The Tigers will need the best version of Sanchez again on Wednesday. They were forced to go to their bullpen early on Tuesday, and will likely have to do the same on Thursday with Mike Pelfrey reportedly on a pitch count for his afternoon start.
Oh, and there’s that whole “playoff race” thing too.
The Tigers still have time to catch up in the wild card standings, especially as the AL East beats up on itself down the stretch, but they can’t afford to miss opportunities like they have this week. Duffey has not been able to keep opposing lineups in check, and his two-pitch approach should keep things simple for a Tigers offense searching for answers right now.
Sanchez struggles in the later innings but the Tigers hold on for the win.