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Tigers vs. Blue Jays Preview: Anibal Sanchez aims for a series win

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The Tigers could clinch a series win on Sunday... or improve their draft position.

Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

No matter how bad their record gets, watching the Tigers win games is always fun — Friday’s 5-4 victory likely proved that. However, those wins come at a bit of a cost now. With the team all but mathematically eliminated from the AL Wild Card race, many fans are rooting for losses in order to improve the team’s position in next year’s MLB draft.

Luckily, other teams are helping them out.

The Oakland Athletics, one of Detroit’s biggest competitors in the “race” for a top-five pick, have won four straight games. So have the New York Mets. The Cincinnati Reds even won a few games last week before dropping their last three. As of Sunday morning, the Tigers would own the No. 5 pick by virtue of losing a tiebreaker with the Reds. They are a couple games ahead of the A’s and Mets with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

If anything, it creates a win-win proposition for Tigers fans. Either Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers pull out a thrilling win on Sunday, or they inch closer to a higher pick and (hopefully) a better future.

Detroit Tigers (60-81) at Toronto Blue Jays (65-77)

Time/Place: 1:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation site: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-3, 7.07 ERA) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (7-10, 3.85 ERA)

Game 142 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Sanchez 77.2 19.0 5.9 6.21 -0.4
Happ 119.1 21.7 7.9 4.02 2.0

For as long as he struggled earlier in his career, Happ has settled in nicely during his 30s. He posted a then-career best 1.9 fWAR in 2011 during his age 29 season, then nearly doubled that three years later in 2015. That included an incredible 2.1 fWAR in 11 starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which earned him his current three-year contract with the Jays. He pitched a career-high 195 innings last year and finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting thanks to a 20-4 record.

While Happ’s ERA isn’t quite as good as last year’s 3.18 mark, his peripherals are nearly identical to what he posted in 2016. His strikeout rate has perked up slightly, but he is giving up a few more home runs, resulting in a 4.02 FIP. If anything, he has gotten a little better at generating weak contact. Happ has increased his ground ball rate by four percentage points, and his line drive rate is its lowest since 2014.

There isn’t anything in Happ’s pitch mix to explain those changes, though. He still relies on his 92-93 mile-per-hour four seamer roughly 40 percent of the time, and a two-seamer about 30 percent of the time. He also mixes in a mid-80s changeup against righties, and a slider to lefties. He will also throw a curveball in the high 70s a few times per game.

Key matchup: Anibal Sanchez vs. his own body

Sanchez has left his last two starts early with injuries. Luckily, the second — a line drive off his leg — wasn’t related to the first, and neither were arm injuries. We don’t expect to see another wayward liner end his day, but hamstring injuries can be fickle. His initial strain occurred less than a month ago, and could still affect him, especially as he fatigues.

Outlook

Of course, Sanchez’s day might not last that long. The Blue Jays have struggled offensively all year, but they tagged him for five runs on nine hits back in July. More importantly, three of those five hits left the ballpark, and Sunday’s game is in a much more hitter-friendly environment. If the Tigers offense can’t keep pace, things could potentially get sideways in a hurry.

Prediction

Happ and the Jays clinch a series win.