Detroit Tigers’ ace Max Scherzer had an incredible season and is the front runner for the American League Cy Young award. But his teammate (and former MVP and Cy Young award winner) Justin Verlander is still the man every Tiger fan wants to see take the mound when it matters most. They will get their wish in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series Tuesday.
After a heartbreaking loss in Game 2 at Fenway Park in Boston against the Red Sox that evened the series at 1-1, a game that Max Scherzer started and twirled 7 innings of one-run baseball with 13 K’s, the Tigers have the delight of selecting Verlander to get the series back in their favor in Detroit.
Verlander had an up-and-down season; he turned in the second-fewest wins in his career and highest earned run average since 2009. He had what would be, for most pitchers, an excellent season, but a disappointing one by his standards. The Tiger’s entered the playoffs with the best staff in all of baseball, and Verlander wasn’t atop the list.
But the regular season is over and Verlander is, again, the go-to guy for Detroit. It is no knock on Scherzer, or Anibal Sanchez who led the Tigers to a Game 1 win in the ALCS, there is just a certain presence that Verlander brings to the mound that very few, if any, pitcher in the big leagues have.
In the division series against the Oakland Athletics, Verlander was given the nod in a decisive Game 5, and not a single brain in baseball was surprised by the stat-line that Verlander posted: 8.0 innings pitched, 2 hits allowed, 1 walk with 10 strikeouts in a 3-0 shutout victory to send the Tiger’s to the penultimate series in baseball. What is more spectacular about that performance was that it came on four days of rest after throwing 7 innings of scoreless baseball in Game 2.
In that same Game 2, however, the Tigers’ offense failed to score a single run and the bullpen couldn’t hold down the A’s offense for longer than one-inning after Verlander was removed from the game. The Tigers’ bullpen will be a storyline going forward, however far the Tigers continue in this postseason, especially after Game 2’s implosion in Boston. But if there is anybody who can cure a bullpen, it’s Verlander and his ability to go the distance.
Game 3 is crucial in this series, especially with it knotted at one apiece, and there isn’t a single person who isn’t expecting Verlander to toss a gem. He has 15.0 innings of shutout baseball so far this postseason, and if he can run that streak to 24, the Tigers will take the lead in this series and give them a chance to advance at home.
Boston’s aim is to win at least one game in Detroit (Games 3, 4 and 5 are in Detroit) to bring the series back to Boston and make a run at advancing to the World Series after winning just 69 games a year ago. With Verlander’s name already printed on the scorecard, John Farrell and the Red Sox staff might be preparing for Game 4 and 5’s strategy instead.