DETROIT – Although he’s on a pitching staff with a 20-game winner and a former league MVP, Anibal Sanchez could be the Detroit Tigers’ choice to start the postseason.
Sanchez is unbeaten in his last 11 outings – a run that began with a victory over a Chicago White Sox team that he’ll face again Sunday at home, with the Tigers seeking to clinch a tie for the AL Central title.
Detroit (91-64) has a magic number of two to clinch a third straight division crown. It can earn the title outright Sunday with a victory and a loss by Cleveland to major league-worst Houston.
Twenty-game winner Max Scherzer and 2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander would be solid choices to start a postseason opener for most teams, but Sanchez (14-7, 2.51 ERA) may be the best option for the Tigers.
Sanchez owns the lowest ERA in the AL, and enters this outing off back-to-back 10-strikeout performances. He did not get a decision Tuesday after allowing two runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 4-2 home win over Seattle.
The right-hander lost to the White Sox on July 11 before throwing 13 1-3 scoreless innings in his next two outings against them. His six-inning stint in a 6-2 victory July 24 began this unbeaten run and he also worked 7 1-3 innings Sept. 11 in a 1-0 victory at Chicago.
Sanchez, who has a 2.07 ERA over his last 11 starts, has limited Adam Dunn to one hit in eight at-bats this year with six strikeouts. Alexei Ramirez is 1 for 9 off him in 2013, Dayan Viciedo 1 for 7 and Paul Konerko and Conor Gillaspie are both 0 for 5. Alejandro De Aza is 4 for 6 with two doubles against him this year.
The Tigers put together a stunning rally Saturday that resulted in their ninth win in 11 games. They were down by six runs entering the bottom of the ninth before coming back for a 7-6, 12-inning victory.
Detroit won after trailing by six in the ninth for the first time since Aug. 22, 1947, against the Washington Senators. Andy Dirks had a three-run homer as part of the six-run rally.
“All year we’ve battled,” Dirks said. “We always say it doesn’t matter if we’re down or we’re up, we’re going to keep on grinding out at-bats and try to win the game no matter what.”
Miguel Cabrera exited shortly after his ninth-inning RBI single made it 6-1. He left with groin soreness, and said he’d see how he feels Sunday.
Chicago (60-94) lost after leading by at least six runs in the ninth inning or later for the first time since 1918.
“Just when you think you’ve seen everything,” manager Robin Ventura said. “The game’s hard unless you get 27 outs.”
Rookie Erik Johnson (1-2, 2.87) will make his fourth start for the White Sox. He excelled in the last one with six scoreless innings Monday for his first big league win, 12-1 over Minnesota.
The right-hander will get another shot at the Tigers after he lasted 3 2-3 innings and was charged with six runs – two earned – in a 9-1 defeat Sept. 10. Prince Fielder went 3 for 3 with a homer off him in that contest.
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