Postseason Tigers: Not just Verlander

Judging from the media support for him, Justin Verlander is a lock for the American League Cy Young Award. He’s even getting serious consideration from many for the AL Most Valuable Player.

He has been a workhorse for the Detroit Tigers this season. Of course, the “workhorse” label has to be qualified in our day of pitch counts and bullpen usage. But, while Nolan Ryan could maybe laugh at Verlander’s accomplishment of going at least six innings and 100 pitches in every start this season, it’s an impressive accomplishment nowadays. And, it’s not just that Verlander eats innings; he has excelled this season, posting a 2.40 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP.

He may also be the most feared pitcher in the American League Division Series, even though we can’t really quantify that. Luckily for Detroit, he has quite a bit of help.

Doug Fister will try to be Curt Schilling to Verlander’s Randy Johnson.

While we’re on potential Fister historical comparisons, we should note that he has turned in a performance evoking memories of Doyle Alexander circa 1987. Alexander came to Detroit at an unbelievably substantial cost in ’87, (John Smoltz) but like the boss said, the immediate return was amazing. Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA for Detroit and played a significant role in helping them secure their last division title before their current championship.

Since his trade, Fister has gone 8-1 for Detroit, with a 1.79 ERA. And, we might assume that Detroit didn’t even give up the next Smoltz. That won’t be known for a while, but what will be known soon is how much Fister will continue to help Detroit. He’s under contract for the next few years, but could help form a phenomenal 1-2 punch for the next few weeks if he can keep up his 11.40 K/BB ratio.

Max Scherzer will follow Fister, and while Scherzer has disappointed this year, it’s in part because he was so great for most of the season in 2010 and looked like he might even challenge his more accomplished teammate for the title of staff ace. After Detroit sent Scherzer to the minors to work on his delivery, he responded by finishing the season with a 2.46 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 153.2 innings. While he didn’t supplant Verlander as No. 1 starter, he has shown the ability to pitch well for an extended period of time. He’s a power righty with the stuff to dominate in the postseason.

It’ll either be Rick Porcello or Brad Penny after that, instead of Verlander. Leyland already said that Verlander would pitch the fifth game if needed, and would not be available on three days’ rest.

Detroit’s bullpen is somewhat famous, what with Jose Valverde setting the Tigers record for consecutive saves. Despite his ability to procure stats with eye-catching names, Valverde is given to issuing walks. But if he can keep that under control, as he has throughout 2010, he should be okay. Joaquin Benoit has bounced back from a rough start to the year to be a reliable option in the eighth, but it’s Al Alburquerque who may be the best bet to put out fires in the playoffs, since he owns an inning-saving 14.03 K/9.

On the offensive side, Detroit is led by one of the game’s best hitters in Miguel Cabrera. Detroit ranks fourth in the American League in runs, homers, batting average, and on-base percentage. That’s good, but unless Tampa Bay crashes the party, all three of the teams that have outscored Detroit on the season will also be in the playoffs.

Cabrera, like Verlander, has help. Alex Avila has been one of the best-hitting catchers in the game this season, having posted a .298/.391/.512. Victor Martinez, now basically a former catcher, has produced for the Tigers as their designated hitter. While his home run power is not what it’s been in the past, he still is hitting .324 from the left side, and along with Avila gives the Tigers much needed presence from that side of the plate, which has been a concern for general manager Dave Dombrowski in the past.

Jhonny Peralta provides some punch from the shortstop position, hitting .301/.349/.477. Veteran Magglio Ordonez is on the downside of his career and may play only against left handers unless Leyland tries to conjure some veteran magic.

Detroit has ridden a hot September to pull away in the Central. Before the Tigers caught fire, they seemed like a team that, due to their dominant ace, could pose problems in a five-game series. If they continue to play like they have of late, with terrific pitching from both Verlander and Fister, and keep hammering away on offense (this club seems like it can come back late in any game), perhaps they can win their first World Series since 1984.

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