DETROIT – Throughout the course of a 162-game baseball season, every team will experience its share of peaks and valleys along the way. But when a team begins the season by winning 11 of its first 15 games, the valleys can only dip so low.
That's the case for the Detroit Tigers (11-4) heading into Thursday afternoon's series finale against the New York Yankees (8-7). Detroit is coming off a season-worst two straight losses to New York, including a 13-4 thrashing inside a snowy Comerica Park on Wednesday night.
Now the Tigers will try to bounce back and avoid their first series loss of the young season in the final home game against the Yankees this year.
To do so, they'll need Anibal Sanchez to get back on track.
First Pitch: 1:08 p.m. on FSD
Detroit's starting rotation came into the season riddled with question marks. Would Shane Greene justify the trade that sent Rick Porcello to Boston? Would Alfredo Simon be the Alfredo Simon who made the All-Star game in 2014, or the Alfredo Simon who lost half of his second-half starts?
Both of those questions have been answered, so far. The two new Tigers are a combined 6-0 through six starts. Even Kyle Lobstein, filling in for an injured Justin Verlander, has been rock solid through two starts.
That's right, Sanchez is the uncertainty. He's the starter responsible for half of the team's losses at this point in the season. The 2013 AL ERA champ allowed seven home runs in spring training, then allowed five in his last two starts.
The sudden power surge comes after Sanchez allowed just four homers in 21 starts last year.
In his last outing, Sanchez surrendered a career high nine earned runs to a White Sox team that mustered only two runs in the other two games of the series. Something's not right, that much is clear.
But the 31-year-old will try to get back to his old ways Thursday against a Yankees team that has punished Tigers pitching over the past two nights, scoring a total of 18 runs.
Sanchez last saw the Yankees in August of 2013, allowing just two runs in seven innings and coming away with a win. Only Carlos Beltran (7-21) has enjoyed extended success against the right-hander.
Thursday's matchup won't be easy, as a struggling Tigers offense draws Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka, who dazzled the Rays in his last start, faces a Detroit team that has scored fewer than three runs in five of its last eight games.
The Tigers didn't get to see Tanaka during his 2014 rookie campaign, which was cut short by arm trouble in early July. In fact, only Yoenis Cespedes (3-5) and Anthony Gose (0-3) have stepped into the box against Tanaka from the Tigers' roster.
Tanaka struggled through his first two starts of the year, allowing seven earned runs in nine innings. But the 26-year-old from Japan twirled seven two-hit innings against the Rays Saturday for his second win of the year and looked like the pitcher that began the 2014 season 11-1.
In other words, he's a tough matchup for a Tigers lineup hoping to break out of a slump.
But New York pounded Detroit's ace Wednesday, so now the Tigers will try to return the favor.
To send the Yankees packing with a 2-2 split, Sanchez will need to keep the ball in the park against a New York team leading MLB with 21 blasts through 15 games, including four against the Tigers.
Detroit enters the game tied with Kansas City for the top record in the AL. The last-place Cleveland Indians (5-9) will visit Comerica Park next for a three-game series over the weekend.