Do the Tigers Have Any Shot in the ALDS If Max Scherzer Never Throws a Pitch?
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On Thursday (Sept. 27), the Tigers announced that Scherzer was being scratched from his Friday start against the Minnesota Twins due to a sore shoulder.
To be specific, as reported by the Detroit News' Lynn Henning, Scherzer is feeling discomfort in his deltoid muscle (which in my layman view, pretty much constitutes the shoulder). He told MLB.com's Jason Beck that he won't throw again until his arm feels fully healthy.
At this point in the season, should the Tigers shut Scherzer down for the rest of the season and save him for the playoffs?
If Scherzer was to stay on his regular rotation, he would start the regular season finale on Oct. 3 vs. the Kansas City Royals. If the Tigers make the postseason (and their chances look very good now), that would put Scherzer on schedule to start Game 3 of the ALDS on Oct. 9.
With Scherzer sidelined, there is some concern about what sort of rotation the Tigers will be able to field during the final six games of the season.
For the weekend series vs. the Twins (Sept. 28-30), rookie Drew Smyly will start for Scherzer on Friday. Justin Verlander will follow on Saturday, and Anibal Sanchez will pitch the series finale.
That leaves Rick Porcello (who could be battling health issues of his own) to pitch Monday's series opener against the Kansas City Royals, followed by Doug Fister on Tuesday. And that leaves Wednesday's finale for Scherzer, if he's healthy enough to make the start. If not, Smyly will likely start again, and Scherzer gets another five full days of rest before pitching in the AL Division Series.
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But what if Scherzer's shoulder problems linger and he's not able to pitch in the ALDS, as the Tigers are privately concerned about?
Obviously, the Tigers are a better team with a stronger pitching staff if Scherzer is available. He has a 16-7 record this season with a 3.82 ERA. Until he allowed three runs in his most recent start on Sept. 23, Scherzer had pitched eight consecutive appearances without giving up more than two runs. And in six of those games, he allowed one run or less.
But most impressive is Scherzer's rate of 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, which leads the major leagues.
Scherzer has always been a strikeout pitcher, but he is absolutely blowing the opposition away this year. That's a weapon Detroit would absolutely need against the Texas Rangers or New York Yankees, the teams that the Tigers would face in the ALDS, depending on who finishes the season as the AL's No. 2 seed.
However, the Tigers might be able to get by in a shorter five-game series without Scherzer.
First of all, they have Verlander for Game 1 and the postseason schedule would allow him to pitch Game 5 on normal rest. That could easily be the difference in the series.
But the secret about the Tigers' pitching staff is that Scherzer might not be the second-best pitcher in their starting rotation. Oh, he's been the best starter behind Verlander this season, especially when the strikeouts are factored in. But Fister might really be Detroit's No. 2 guy.
Fister certainly showed what he's capable of in Thursday's (Sept. 27) win over the Royals. Pitching 7.2 innings, he allowed two earned runs and five hits with 10 strikeouts. Fister also set an AL record by striking out nine straight batters. Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan struck out eight straight batters in a game, but never nine.
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Of course, Fister isn't really a strikeout pitcher. He's struck out nine or more batters in a game three times this season out of 25 starts. It probably also has to be noted that Fister set his AL record against the Royals.
Last year, Fister pitched two gems in the playoffs. His postseason debut didn't go so well, as he gave up six runs in less than five innings. But in his other two starts—facing the Yankees and Rangers—Fister gave up a total of three runs in 12.1 innings.
Fister was considered the Tigers' No. 2 starter last season. There's no reason it can't be that way again this year.
Anibal Sanchez—one of Detroit's big trade-deadline acquisitions—would then slot in as the third starter if Scherzer can't pitch in the ALDS. Sanchez has been inconsistent since coming over to the AL, but he's allowed two runs or less in five of his past seven starts for the Tigers. That includes a complete-game shutout over the Royals on Sept. 25.
The guess here is that the Tigers would feel all right about going into a playoff series with Verlander, Fister and Sanchez as their top three. Porcello could then be their fourth starter, or perhaps Smyly could get the nod if manager Jim Leyland feels he's pitching better. And if a Game 5 is necessary, the Tigers have Verlander and the opposition doesn't.
But the Tigers would obviously feel much better if Scherzer was able to pitch in that spot.
Leyland should make sure Scherzer gets all the rest he needs to make him available for the playoffs. Never mind about pitching one more time during the regular season.
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