Despite their shutout loss Tuesday night, the Detroit Tigers have to feel pretty comfortable with their 2-1 ALDS lead over the Oakland Athletics. While anything can happen in a short playoff series, there are few things better than having Justin Verlander waiting in the wings to start a potential Game 5.
While much has been made of Verlander's struggles in limited playoff appearances, there remains no better pitcher to turn to with your season on the line than the Tigers' ace.
The argument in Verlander's favor is simple: He is the best pitcher in baseball, and there is no reason that the best pitcher in baseball would not be the best pitcher in a playoff game as well.
While it is not universally believed that Verlander is baseball's best, there is a large enough consensus around this point that we can loosely take it as a given.
The question, then, is whether to evaluate the 2011 American League MVP on the basis of his stellar regular season career, which consists of 232 starts up to this point, or whether to dwell on his subpar performances in eight playoff starts prior to the 2012 postseason.
When evaluating Verlander's statistics, eight postseason starts would certainly fall under the category of "small sample size." Despite the mainstream media perception, the outcome of eight events is not nearly conclusive enough to predict the ninth, 10th nor the 11th.
Especially when considering the actual environment surrounding Verlanders's eight postseason starts.
Four of Verlander's eight postseason starts—the starts that were supposed to determine that he simply "doesn't have it" in the playoffs—occurred in 2006. That was six years ago.
It was also Verlander's rookie season.
Are we really trusting a month of Verlander's rookie season more than the 67 starts he amassed in 2011 and 2012?
Then there are the four postseason starts from last year, during which Verlander faced the powerful offenses of the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. In those "horrible" starts, Verlander struck out 25 batters in 20.1 innings. He struggled with his control and the deep Texas lineup was able to hit a few balls out of the park against him, but it is not as if Verlander simply folded the tent or was overmatched.
Sometimes, in an effort to come up with a unique take on teams, players or events, we overthink our angles and create a narrative that shouldn't really exist.
Calling Justin Verlander—a perennial Cy Young Award candidate who, prior to shutting down the Oakland A's in Game 1, had started four playoff games in six seasons—a poor postseason performer is one of those instances.
Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball, and there's no reason to think he won't be the best pitcher in baseball this week or the next.
Verlander has been the backbone of the Detroit Tigers for the last two seasons, and he is as responsible for the Tigers' late-season surge as Miguel Cabrera or any other player. The Tigers are lucky to know they can turn to him in Game 5 if necessary, and there's no reason to believe he won't come through.