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Heading into the postseason, all the hype surrounding the Detroit Tigers was how the Oakland A’s would be able to solve the Tigers’ top two starting pitchers: Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Scherzer picked up the win in Game 1, throwing seven innings of three-hit ball while giving up two runs and striking out 11. Verlander followed that up with seven scoreless innings and also 11 strikeouts, but he was tagged with a no-decision as the A’s earned a walkoff win in Game 2.

So now it will be up to Anibal Sanchez to follow the lead of Detroit’s two aces. But actually, Sanchez fits the role of the Tigers’ underrated ace.


Photo by Roger DeWitt, used under creative commons license.

 

I will be the first to admit that I thought the Tigers were absolutely crazy in investing five years and $88 million in Sanchez this offseason. The guy had a record right around .500 for his career, though he did pitch for some bad teams.

But that’s still a lot of money for a middling-at-best pitcher.

However, Sanchez went out this year and earned his money. He finished 14-8 with an AL-leading 2.57 ERA. On a staff that included Scherzer and Verlander, I bet no one expected Sanchez to finish with the lowest ERA.

Sanchez really began to establish himself during the Tigers’ run to the World Series last season. He pitched decent after coming to Detroit via trade last July, but it took time for him adjust to the new league, since he had pitched for the Marlins in the NL his whole career.

But his three playoffs starts played a role in his lucrative deal. He made three starts last postseason and gave up only four earned runs in 20 1/3 innings.

Since he came to Detroit, Sanchez’s confidence has skyrocketed. Maybe it has to do with being able to learn from one of the game’s best right-handed pitchers in Verlander or maybe it’s the fact that he knows his high-profile offense of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez will usually score him some runs.

Either way, things have clicked for Sanchez, and the Tigers hope he can continue his growth in Game 3 against the A’s. It was a bit of a struggle for him over his final seven starts, as he lasted only five innings in three of those starts. But he proved the entire season that he has turned the corner.

Sanchez is so effective because he’s able to mix his fastball -- which sits consistently in the low-to-mid 90s -- with his change-up and slider that rarely touch 80 mph. His control has been impeccable, which is impressive since he’s not afraid to throw any of his pitches in any count.

The Athletics will send young righty Jarrod Parker to the hill against Sanchez Monday night to see which team takes control of the series. Based on Sanchez’s recent track record, the Tigers must feel pretty confident in giving the ball to their underrated ace with the series on the line.