The ‘68 Tigers won 103 games on the strength of the best ERA in the American League, 2.71. Denny McClain won 31 games and struck out 280. Mickey Lolich won 17 and fanned 197. Earl Wilson and Joe Sparma combined for 23 wins and 278 strike outs, helping the Tigers set a team record for most K’s in a season. The record has stood for more than 40 years, and is in danger of falling.
Through 45 games, the 2009 Tigers pitching staff has struck out 326 batters in 398.1 innings pitched. That’s a rate of 7.24 per game, which makes for a projected season total of 1,173 punch outs, which would eclipse the record of 1,115 set by that great ‘68 squad.
The bullpen has contributed 115 K’s while the starting rotation has notched 211 whiffs. I’ve included Zach Minor and his numbers in the bullpen count.
While the 2009 team is far off the 2.71 ERA pace of the 1968 bunch, the current group also leads the American League in the category with a team ERA of 3.86. This year's Motor City Kitties also pace the AL in shutouts (six), fewest hits allowed (373), and fewest earned runs allowed (171). The Tigers rank second in the league in WHIP (1.33) and opponent's batting average (.318).
Not bad for a team that only weeks ago was barely a .500 club with Justin Verlander struggling and Dontrelle Willis in the Minor Leagues.
Verlander has led the resurrection, going 5-0 with an ERA of 0.80, a WHIP of 0.85 and 60 strike outs in 42.1 innings pitched in the last month. Edwin Jackson is 4-3 overall (he should be 6-2) with a 2.58 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and 50 K’s in 66.1 innings of work. Rookie Rick Porcello collected his sixth win Wednesday and boasts an ERA/WHIP split of 3.48/1.20 with 32 K’s in 51.1.
With Dontrelle Willis rising like a phoenix and the potential return of Jeremy Bonderman, it’s getting easier each day to believe this rotation could be pitching in the playoffs this season. If Armando Galarraga can find the form that made him the de facto ace of the staff in 2008 and the first few weeks of 2009, things could get pretty scary for opposing hitters come September and beyond.
For the first time in several years, the trade deadline will come and go without much talk of the Tigers' need to acquire a starting pitcher. The bullpen may be ripe for a targeted edition, but the rotation seems well under control, at least for now.
There is a pile of baseball left to play. A lot can happen in the next four months, in the next four weeks, in the next four games—but as of today the Detroit Tigers are setting the standard for pitching among American League squads, and chasing the ghost of the 1968 Tigers and their strikeout record in the process.
So keep your eyes on the mound, and the record book, going forward; you just might see something spectacular appear in both places.
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