The Detroit Tigers boast an incredible pitching staff. With an ace like Justin Verlander, how could it get any better?
The rest of the rotation pencils in the names Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. It is arguably the top rotation in the majors and the proof is in the numbers.
Recently the Tiger’s bullpen has developed into a strength, solidifying the notion that Detroit may have the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
Let’s start with the easy one: Max Scherzer. His 16-1 record is the best start for a pitcher since Roger Clemens in 2001. His 16 wins are the most in the majors, he’s second in the AL with 170 strikeouts and his 2.85 ERA ranks eighth in the AL. Scherzer told the Associated Press:
Wins are important for the team, and I'm up about that. But to reach milestones for your career, sometimes that's a better personal reflection of yourself.
Max has not given up a run in his last 14 innings heading into Wednesday’s start and is the front-runner for the AL Cy Young.
Doug Fister (10-5) has won four of his last five starts giving up just six earned runs over 34 innings with a K:BB ratio of 26:6. The team overall has won six of Fister’s last seven starts and Fister is third in the AL with just 26 walks in 149 innings pitched. The number he’d like to keep down is his league-leading 15 hit batsmen.
Of course, there is the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young recipient Justin Verlander. Because of some issues with his mechanics, JV has not quite been himself this year. Tuesday’s 5-1 win in Cleveland, highlighted in the video, could be the start that turned the corner for the fireballer. Verlander went eight innings with one earned run on four hits, zero walks, and seven strikeouts on 112 pitches. He improved to 12-8 on the year and has given up just two earned runs in his last two starts—both wins.
Anibal Sanchez (9-7) was one to keep an eye on after signing that big contract this offseason. He has pitched well, sporting the third-best ERA in the AL at 2.58 through 118.2 innings. His record does not account for his efficiency with 131 strikeouts to 37 walks. He had a stint on the DL in June with stiffness in his throwing shoulder, but has been sharp since going 3-2 with nine earned runs in 37 innings and 30 strikeouts. He aims for his 10th win of the season on Saturday against the New York Yankees.
Rick Porcello (8-6) has been steady in the fifth spot in the rotation. He’s second in the AL with just 25 walks issued in 120 innings pitched and struck out 88. Porcello has turned in six consecutive quality starts and the team has won each of his last five.
The Tigers' rotation is the only starting five in baseball to each sport a winning record. They are also on pace to each record 10 or more wins—Porcello (8) and Sanchez (9) are the only two who haven’t already done so.
The key for the club moving forward is the bullpen. The Tigers are 15-3 since the All-Star break and are 24-8 since the start of July. Over that span the bullpen is a combined 5-1 with nine saves—wins credited to Al Alburquerque (2), Drew Smyly, Bruce Rondon and Jeremy Bonderman.
Their bullpen currently ranks 11th in the AL in opponent batting average at .241 but has been lowered considerably over their 11-game win streak.
The addition of Jose Veras at the trade deadline allows Joaquin Benoit to remain Detroit’s closer and stabilize the bullpen. In five appearances as a Tiger, Veras has thrown 5.1 innings without issuing a single run or hit. He’s walked one, struck out two and earned one hold.
Benoit has been more than reliable in the ninth inning. He sports a minuscule 1.53 ERA, is a perfect 14/14 in save opportunities and has 55 strikeouts in 47 innings. His performance saved the club from possibly overpaying for a big name closer at the deadline.
Drew Smyly, Bruce Rondon and Al Alburquerque have assumed the seventh inning responsibilities and have provided manager Jim Leyland with options out of the pen. Smyly and Alburquerque provide the left and right-handed arms for match up purposes, but Bruce Rondon’s power arm also supplies Leyland with a change of pace to elude hitters.
Phil Coke hasn’t given up a run in his last seven appearances, although they have only totaled 4.2 innings. In two of those appearances, he faced one batter and surrendered a hit. His inability to come through as a lefty against left-handed hitters is why he’s faced just one hitter in August. Righties are hitting .300 against Coke while lefties still don an elevated .241 average.
On Wednesday, Jeremy Bonderman made his first appearance in a Tiger uniform since Oct. 1, 2010. He appeared in the 11th inning and pitched three scoreless innings en route to his first win of the season. He surrendered just one hit—erased by a double-play—issued no walks, and struck out three on 27 pitches. While the sample size is small, his fastball ranged from 92-94 mph and his slider showed tremendous life at the plate.
With a steady bullpen, this Tiger squad could be even better than last year’s World Series team. It’s rare to see a club sport an elite starting rotation and support it with such efficiency as Detroit has over the last month.
The Tigers were already a dangerous team, but the way they have come together these last two weeks makes them a downright scary team that nobody wants play.