TIGERS PREVIEW: Position-by-position — Starting rotation
(Justin Verlander, RHP; Max Scherzer, RHP; Doug Fister, RHP; Anibal Sanchez, RHP [pictured, right]; Rick Porcello, RHP) [TO RETURN TO THE MAIN STORY, CLICK HERE]
There’s no question that the starting pitching was the overriding reason the Tigers made the World Series in 2012.
How tough were they?
Through the five-game AL Division Series against Oakland, the Tigers starters threw 34 2/3 innings (all but nine of the total), giving up five earned runs (1.30 ERA) on 21 hits, striking out 41 and walking 10.
Through the four-game AL Championship Series against New York, the starters threw 27.1 innings, giving up two earned runs (0.66 ERA) on 14 hits, striking out 25 and walking nine.
At one point — from the start of Game 5 of the ALDS through the first eight innings of Game 3 of the ALCS — the starters recorded 30 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. According to STATS, LLC, it’s the longest streak by one club’s starting pitchers in a single postseason.
Before that, in the regular season, the race between Justin Verlander (the Cy Young runner-up) and Max Scherzer went right down to the wire, as they finished Nos. 1 and 2 in baseball in Ks.
Even better than those facts?
How about the thought that all four of those playoff starters, Verlander, Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, are under team control for at least two more seasons, giving the Tigers one of the deepest rotations in baseball for the near future.
“He gives us that type of depth in the rotation, where all of a sudden, you look at the first four, you start saying Verlander and Scherzer and Fister and Sanchez — when you look at those first four, we think they can match up with any four in baseball,” GM Dave Dombrowski said of the decision to re-sign Anibal Sanchez in the offseason.
Add in Rick Porcello, who beat out Drew Smyly in the spring battle for the final spot in the rotation in 2013, and you’ve got a formidable force.
And it’s one where the individual members can feed off the success of others.
“When you see other starters go out there and just mow lineups down, and have success, you want to almost one-up it. You don’t want to watch everybody else do good, and you go out there and suck it up. It just gives you that fire, to repeat it. If you can do it, I can do it,” Smyly said during a run of sterling starts by the group this spring. “It’s fun when everyone’s pitching well, when everyone’s doing good. It’s just making everyone compete against each other, to pitch just as good as the last person.”
The only limitation that the Tigers have with respect to starting pitching is that they don’t have a ton of it beyond the top six. The depth that has come into play when injuries hit over the past few years has all but evaporated, thanks to a string of trades, part of the reason that manager Jim Leyland wasn’t unhappy to see Porcello and Smyly both stay with the team.
“We don’t have a lot of rotation depth, to be honest with you, as we speak. We have some some prospective rotation depth, but most of it’s not quite ready yet. So having those six guys is a real treat. We’ve got six for sure. We’ve got some other candidates that I would have to say, with all due respect, are not ready yet,” Leyland said. “We don’t really have, right now, a lot of young guys that are knocking on the door.”