The White Sox and Indians are dead and buried, and with 19 games left for the Tigers this season their magic number is down to 12. Any combination of Tigers wins or White Sox losses that add up to 12, and the White Sox miss the playoffs. It's the same story for the Indians.
If the Tigers go .500 down the stretch, either the White Sox or the Indians would need to finish 19-2 in their final 21 games just to tie them for first place. It’s not going to happen.
The Tigers have been rolling of late, thanks largely to Justin Verlander and his MLB-leading 22 wins. With every start, he seems to rack up yet another win. With a nine-game division lead, it should be time for the Tigers to call off the dogs.
Having checked "win the division" off their to-do list, the next job is to prepare for the playoffs. To do that, they have to ease up on Verlander’s workload. Verlander’s 229 innings pitched leads all of baseball. CC Sabathia and James Shields are both workhorses, but Verlander has 11 extra innings pitched compared to them. That’s almost two additional starts.
Furthermore, Verlander is just 11 more innings shy of his career high. Only once in his career has he pitched in the postseason, in 2006 when he combined for 207.2 innings. The 2009 campaign was his career high with 240 innings pitched. Three more starts would probably tack on an additional 18 innings and push him past his career high before even reaching the playoffs.
For the Tigers to go all the way this year, they need Verlander—a lot. The 2009 Yankees pitched Sabathia on three days rest the entire postseason and rode his left arm to a World Series title. That’s the blueprint the Tigers need to follow with Verlander.
If Verlander makes two starts in each of the first two rounds, his total innings pitched could already jump up to 275 before the Tigers even reach the World Series. That’s only figuring six innings per start for the remainder of the season and seven in the playoffs. It would be a 15 percent increase on his career high for innings pitched.
The last thing you want in October is doubts about your ace, but if you stretch Verlander too far past his career marks you just can’t predict what you’ll get out of him as the playoffs go on. Even beyond worrying about setting him back for next season, the Tigers should be more worried about keeping him fresh for the playoffs.
They have the division. There’s no way the White Sox or Indians will make up that nine-game deficit this deep in the season.
It’s time to go into cruise control and dial back Verlander's workload for the rest of the regular season. Detroit's playoff success depends on it.