In December 2012, the Detroit Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million contract, bolstering one of the best starting rotations in baseball.

And this season, Sanchez has gone out and defended his mega deal.

Sanchez’s deal was one of the more polarizing contract agreements in Tigers recent memory, igniting outrage from some fans, and elation for others.

The 29-year-old received the deal mostly because of his 2012 postseason success when he earned a 1.77 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 6 walks in 20.1 innings over three starts.

Sanchez helped lead the Tigers to the 2012 World Series, but prior to last year’s postseason, Sanchez’s numbers were mediocre at best.

His 9-13 record with a 3.86 ERA in 2012, combined with his 39-38 lifetime record prior to 2012, had some Tigers fans up in arms about such an expensive, long-term contract.

But in 2013, the right-hander has picked up from where he left off from last October, and has been brilliant for the Tigers.

On Wednesday night, Sanchez earned his career-high 14th win after throwing seven scoreless innings, giving up just five hits and earning 10 strikeouts.

Sanchez improved to 14-7 this season with a 2.50 ERA, which is the best among Tigers starters.

He has the second-most wins on the team, trailing only Max Scherzer and is the only starter trailing Scherzer in strikeouts per nine inning with 9.67. His 9.67 K’s per nine innings is third in the AL.

With the struggles of Justin Verlander, Sanchez has been the Tigers’ second best starter this season, and he’s arguably been the best against the American League Central

Against the AL Central, when it matters the most, Sanchez has been even more outstanding.

Sanchez is 7-3 against divisional opponents and has a sub-2 ERA against three of the four teams in the division.

He’s on pace to earn a career-best ERA and for a career-high in strikeouts. His best game this season came in April against the Atlanta Braves, when threw an eight-inning shutout, striking out 17 batters.

Sanchez’s 17 strikeouts broke the Tigers’ franchise record for strikeouts in a single game, passing Mickey Lolich, who struck out 16 batters twice in 1969.

With 16 games left and the Tigers six games up in the division, Sanchez will have three more regular season starts, where he can help the Tigers bury the Cleveland Indians and lead Detroit to an AL Central three-peat.

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