The MLB postseason is designed to warp our perspective, to create heroes from dust and make goats of greats.
As the mechanical order of an 162-game season devolves into short-series chaos, dribblers up the middle become cause for apotheosis—just as an 0-10 slump that would have gone undetected in late June elicits reams of alarmist prose.
It's why Francisco Cabrera (career 0.3 WAR) has a longer Wikipedia entry than Jeff Blauser (career 18.8 WAR). It's why some pundits think Jack Morris is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Bert Blyleven.
Verlander, who came into these playoffs with a career postseason ERA over 5.00, has been the undisputed pitching star of October 2012.
Over three starts, the indefatigable right-hander has thrown 24.1 innings, fanned 25 batters and allowed just two runs. He's topped 120 pitches in each of his outings and induced more swings and misses (44) than every member of San Francisco's starting rotation combined (39).
Verlander's latest effort—an 8.1 inning, one-run masterpiece on Tuesday night—puts his Detroit Tigers one win away from the World Series.
For many, what they've seen these past weeks from the Tiger ace is confirmation of his greatness—a trait they detected but couldn't ratify until he'd stitched some postseason magic into his narrative fabric.
Verlander needed that autumn moment, something like the complete-game shutout he hurled on the road against Oakland to secure Detroit's place in the ALCS.
Now he has it, finally allowing the baseball world to fully embrace what Verlander has done over the past four years.
Here's a look at where Verlander ranks among major league starters since the beginning of 2009...
- 25.1 WAR (first)
- 78 wins (first)
- 144 ERA+ (second)
- 977 strikeouts (first)
- 65 opponent OPS+ (first)
- 953.2 innings pitched (second)
If interpretive objectivity is the goal, those statistics should far outweigh whatever Verlander does in a handful of October outings. We should already have an unshakable faith in his excellence, reminding ourselves to take those fickle postseason impressions with caution.
But in many corners of the baseball fanscape—even with all the inroads made by sabremetrics—objectivity is an elusive concept, or worse: a dirty word.
It's the October endgame that matters. Fail there, and well, you're a failure.
Now that's not a lens I like to look through, but it exists. And I'm glad that those folks have lost their leverage. At the very least, Verlander's performance in these playoffs discredits those who would try to cheapen all that he has already accomplished.
And so on this blustery October night, as intermittent rain showers crisscrossed eastern Michigan, the cement finally dried on a legacy years in the making.
Justin Verlander is a great starting pitcher. No qualifiers needed. No doubts granted.