Tigers' rotation a smart mix of an ace and castoffs - NBC Sports

Tigers' rotation a smart mix of an ace and castoffs
Verlander's great, but Detroit's savvy moves also let guys like Scherzer shine
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Max Scherzer posted an 8-2 record with a 2.69 ERA during the second half of the season.
October 16, 2012, 6:10 pm

After beating the New York Yankees with their No. 3 and No. 4 starters, the Detroit Tigers sit in the almost-perfect position of having ace Justin Verlander on the mound at home in tonight's ALCS Game 3.

Just in case this series does the unexpected and goes the distance, it will be Verlander on the mound for a Game 7, too.

And when you look around at the rest of the LCS field, it's not hard to see how much better off the Tigers sit rotation-wise at this point.

The San Francisco Giants streaked through the 2010 post-season behind their dominant starting pitching. But this October, it took until NLCS Game 2 for starter Ryan Vogelsong to get through six innings. Their postseason rotation ERA sits at an inflated 5.40.

Ace Matt Cain has allowed six earned runs in 10.2 postseason innings entering an NLCS Game 3 start, and Tim Lincecum has turned into the game's most-expensive middle reliever - though he most likely will make a Game 4 start.

The St. Louis Cardinals have lost starter Jaime Garcia to a shoulder injury. Chris Carpenter hasn't built up enough stamina and command in only a half-dozen starts since returning from a season-long recovery from surgery.

Lance Lynn lasted only 3.2 innings in NLCS Game 1, leaving Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright, who was hit hard in LDS Game 5, and has shown recent signs of wearing down in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Their post-season rotation ERA is 4.85.

And the New York Yankees won't get to ace CC Sabathia until Wednesday's Game 4, when they could be facing elimination. That would mean Sabathia pitching on only three days rest if the Yankees force Game 7.

Meanwhile, as too much focus is being placed on the Tigers' bullpen issues, their rotation has spun this line of dominance through seven postseason games: 3-1, 0.94 ERA, one complete game, 48 innings, five earned runs, 53 strikeouts, .179 opponents batting average, .244 opponents slugging percentage.

This is far more than just a one-man show, folks.

"It's nice to see us rolling as a group,'' Verlander said Monday. "I think pitching, much like hitting, is contagious.''

Verlander has the one complete game, of course, and there was no bigger time for it. Forced to a Game 5 in Oakland, Verlander dominated - four hits, a walk and 11 strikeouts in a 6-0 shutout.

Those are numbers that can put him in the pantheon of right-handed postseason dominance - right there with Bob Gibson, Jack Morris, John Smoltz and Curt Schilling. And you can only expect it to continue given the Yankees' offensive desperation in this postseason.

The rest of Jim Leyland's quality rotation options came from the trading acumen of president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who hasn't been afraid to send away top prospects in an effort to fill owner Mike Ilitch's win-now desires.

Max Scherzer
From the rare (Dec. 2009) trade that helped all three teams involved: Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers; Curtis Granderson to the Yankees; Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson (subsequently spun for Daniel Hudson) to the Diamondbacks.

Scherzer's second half of 2012 mirrored Verlander's until a late-September injury scare limited his innings a bit. Here's the comparison:

  • Scherzer: 8-2, 2.69 ERA, 90 IP, 77 hits, 110 Ks, .666 opponents' OPS
  • Verlander: 8-3, 2.73 ERA, 105.2 IP, 96 hits, 111 Ks, .644 opponents' OPS.

And like Verlander, Scherzer dominated the A's in his LDS start: eight strikeouts and only three hits allowed in 5.1 shutout innings.

Doug Fister
The 2011 stretch-run revelation, Fister went 8-1-1.79 in 70.4 innings after being acquired along with David Pauley from the Mariners, who extracted the heavy prospects price of Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and Francisco Martinez.

In one-plus regular seasons with the Tigers, Fister's line reads: 18-11-2.95, 232 IP, 210 hits and a 4.6/1 K/BB ratio. He will reach arbitration eligibility for the first time this winter, and no matter how good those prospects turn out to be, this one also ends on the plus side of Dombrowski's trade log.

Anibal Sanchez
He didn't quite provide the regular-season boost (4-6, 3.74 ERA in 12 starts) that Fister did after being acquired from the Marlins along with Omar Infante. But Sanchez's two postseason starts have produced a 1.35 ERA, .174 opponents' batting average and 0.98 WHIP.

Again, the price was steep: Jacob Turner, long the organization's top pitching prospect, and catcher Rob Brantly. And it will be even steeper if Sanchez leaves through free agency this winter.

But if Sanchez's pitches his way to a big free-agent deal the Tigers aren't willing to match, a World Series championship would more than cushion the loss.

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