There are a lot of things to like about this year's Detroit Tigers. The offense is heating up at just the right time, the back of the bullpen couldn't look better and Justin Verlander is a legitimate MVP candidate.
But two people are beginning to cause serious concern as the playoffs loom: Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
As I discussed yesterday, Scherzer remains the key to the Tigers' postseason chances. Porcello, however, may be pitching for his postseason spot in the rotation.
Traditionally, manager Jim Leyland likes to run with a four-man rotation during the playoffs. He did it back in the day with Pittsburgh, and he did it in 2006 with the Tigers.
That said, there is one major difference between those teams and this one. At no point did Leyland have a pitcher as dominant as Verlander is right now. Sure, Kenny Rogers had a fine year in 2006, and Verlander himself was the American League Rookie of the Year, but neither was a Cy Young contender, let alone the most dominant pitcher in the league.
Right now, Leyland has to be strongly considering running out a three-man rotation in order to utilize Verlander's dominance. If that's the case, only Doug Fister seems guaranteed a spot in the rotation, with Scherzer the likeliest bet for the third spot.
Porcello and Scherzer have both been wildly inconsistent. The difference is that Scherzer has the kind of stuff that can weather a bad start here and there. He has enough dominance in him that his stuff can be slightly off and he can still pitch well.
Porcello has a very small margin for error. Basically, if his sinker isn't sinking, he doesn't have the stuff to make up for it. When he has to rely too much on throwing his fastball for strikes, he gets hammered.
In his last five starts, he has given up at least four earned runs four times, including an eight-run shellacking against rival Cleveland.
In fact, Porcello has only looked good twice in the last month, once at Kansas City and once against the middling Minnesota Twins. Sadly, those are the two worst teams he has faced during that stretch, and in another start against Minnesota he was not nearly as sharp, giving up four earned runs and six overall.
The Tigers are likely going to face either Boston or New York in the first round of the playoffs. Against the Yankees in May he was excellent, allowing only two earned runs in seven innings. Two starts later against Boston, however, he was absolutely wrecked, lasting only three innings and giving up six earned.
Porcello does have history on his side. Both Leyland's preference to use a four-man rotation, and the fact that he looked great in a high-pressure, one-game playoff situation a couple years ago against Minnesota.
Porcello really can't afford to take his position for granted with the team. If he can't get control of his stuff and gain a spot in the postseason rotation, would it improbable for the Tigers to shop him in the offseason?
I mean, what good is a young arm if he can't contribute when the team needs him most?
Personally, I think he continues to struggle and the Tigers run with three starters for the playoffs, leaving Porcello stuck in the bullpen.