2012 Top 10 Stories: #3 – Max Scherzer Arrives

Three years ago, the Tigers acquired Max Scherzer in a megatrade and the club envisioned him as part of a high-octane one-two punch with Justin Verlander. Scherzer displayed flashes of his potential with the Diamondbacks in 2008 and ’09 and observers in the desert thought that Scherzer would be part of a lethal rotation combo, but with Brandon Webb.

He appeared in 16 games (seven starts) in his rookie season and though he didn’t earn a win, he posted a solid 3.05 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In ’09, he made 30 starts on his way to a 9-11 record with a 4.12 ERA and fanned 9.2 batters per nine innings.

ScherzerHead.jpgScherzer was an unknown quantity for most Tigers fans when he came to Detroit with Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth in the three-team trade with the D-backs and Yankees. But the promise – oh, the promise! – was tantalizing.

And before long it was baffling.

Here’s part of what I wrote on the SweetSpot blog about six weeks into the 2010 season:

After a dazzling debut on April 7 in which he held the Royals to one hit over six innings in a no-decision, Scherzer has been nothing but a question mark in Detroit’s rotation. He hasn’t won in nearly a month, he’s given up 48 hits in 37 innings so far, and in his last two starts alone he allowed 15 earned runs in 9.1 IP.

Scherzer enters his Friday start against the Red Sox with a 1-3 record and a bulky 6.81 ERA. He’s also been a major contributor to the number of innings the Tigers bullpen has pitched in the first six weeks of the season: Scherzer averages barely five innings of work.

After a dominant two-start demotion to Toledo, Scherzer returned to the Tigers for good on May 30 and finished the year at 12-11, 3.50 ERA in 195.2 innings.

He took a step forward in some areas during the 2011 season but still showed a frustrating inconsistency, often dazzling in one start, imploding in the next. In virtually the same number of innings pitched as in ’10 – 195.0 – Scherzer saw his ERA jump almost a full run, but his walks and strikeouts both decreased. And, he surrendered 20 more earned runs and 33 more hits from the year before.

Given how his regular season played out, it came as no surprise that Scherzer sparkled against the Yankees in the ALDS and, equally unsurprising, he collapsed in two ALCS starts against the Rangers.

The 2012 season was a entirely different story and an entirely different Max Scherzer. In his third season with the Tigers her set career highs with 16 wins and 231 strikeouts.

He led the league with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, finished second with 231 strikeouts and tied for sixth in wins.

Untouchable for stretches, he struck out nine-or-more batters in 13 of his starts during the season – tops in the majors. These marked the most by a Tigers pitcher since Mickey Lolich posted 15 games with nine-or-more strikeouts in 1971.

In his May 20 start against the Pirates, he struck out 15, all swinging.

Of course, Scherzer’s breakthrough season was all the more remarkable to watch after a devastating personal tragedy. As Jason Beck wrote this week:

Alex Scherzer wasn’t just Max’s little brother, he was his best friend and confidant. It was Alex’s skill with numbers that fostered Max’s fascination with statistics as he blossomed into a Major League pitcher. When Alex died without warning in June, Max contemplated the best way to honor his brother’s memory. In the end, the mound became a haven for the right-hander, and baseball was a way for him to put smiles on people’s faces. It was a new appreciation for life while he found the kind of on-field success that had driven Scherzer for years.

Scherzer led the Majors in strikeouts for most of the summer before a muscular issue in his right shoulder cost him a couple of starts. His postseason performances through that adversity earned Scherzer respect from teammates and opponents alike.

He made three postseason starts, one each in the ALDS, ALCS and World Series, allowing 12 hits and four earned runs in 17.1 innings pitched. Against the Yankees in the pennant-clinching LCS Game 4, carved up Joe Girardi‘s lineup: 5.2 IP, one earned run, two walks, a pair of hits and 10 strikeouts.

In Game 4 of the World Series, Scherzer dealt a quality start against the Giants – 6.1 IP, three runs, seven hits, and eight strikeouts. Given how the Giants offense constructed runs, and how punchless the Tigers’ lineup had become, he really had no chance to earn a win.

But that exemplifies the difference between Max Scherzer in 2102 from the one we watched in 2010 and ’11. In those first seasons in Detroit, he often failed to give his team a chance to win.

If we’re to believe what we saw this past season, those days just might be a thing of the past.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Recapping the Return of Anibal Sanchez

Detroit fans have been spoiled rotten by Mike Ilitch‘s generosity with the Red Wings for 30 years and the Tigers for the past 20. But I thought even he’d reached his limit with the addition of Torii Hunter last month. And I’m so glad to be wrong.

The re-signing of Anibal Sanchez – to a contact equal to Justin Verlander’s 2009 extension – is not only another indication of an owner’s urgent desire to win, it’s a reminder of how the Tigers have become a destination of choice for big-name players.

For a long time, the Tigers had to overpay any free agent with even a hint of interest in playing home games at Comerica Park:

Then the winning came and with it a reputation for being a great place to play. Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Hunter further proved that. And now with the re-signing of Sanchez, the Tigers must be considered a threat to add big names for big dollars every year. But back to Sanchez. He was the highest-profile Tigers free agent since, perhaps, Jack Morris in 1990. But unlike Sanchez, few expected Morris to bolt for his hometown Twins. (Juan Gonzalez doesn’t count; no one expected him to re-sign with the Tigers after the 2000 season. And thankfully he didn’t.)

With Sanchez sticking around to permanently replace Rick Porcello as the Tigers’ fourth starter, his impact on the rotation could be just as big as Hunter’s in the everyday lineup.

 

What Others Are Saying

If anything, this deal highlights the differences between operating a franchise that will spend money and one that either won’t or is limited by its market size. The Royals had to trade a premium prospect to acquire two years of Shields. The Tigers can just dip into owner Mike Ilitch’s wallet and sign a free agent — this offseason, Torii Hunter and now Sanchez. The Royals might think of themselves as playoff contenders,but this signing makes it a little less likely that will be the case. – Dave Schoenfield, ESPN.com “Sanchez signing makes Tigers clear favorite”.

Did the Tigers overpay for Sanchez? Something like that is somewhat relative. In a vacuum, yes, the Tigers are paying $16 million to a pitcher who, while productive, isn’t exactly great like his impressive paychecks will say he is. Was he the best available left on the market, though, and a pitcher who can help Detroit achieve their goal of winning a World Series before the Tigers as we know them scatter to the winds? That’s why they acquired Sanchez at last year’s deadline to begin with. Re-signing him is simply giving that plan another go, and it’s hard to blame them considering how close they were to getting it done on the first attempt. – Marc Normandin, SB Nation “Anibal Sanchez might be overpaid, but fits Tigers

When the reclining Tigers finally sat up and took enough notice to get off their original four-year, $48 million offer, the Cubs almost got him. The Cubs still might have had him if they had been willing to enter a bidding war that would have saddled them with a potentially bad contract. – Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun TimesTigers outbid Cubs for Anibal Sanchez — but it was close

Some viewed the Tigers as an underachieving bunch, but that did not sway Tigers owner Mike Ilitch’s commitment to winning a World Series. Like he did last year with Prince Fielder, Ilitch swooped in at the last minute to re-sign Sanchez, which preserved one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league. – Jim Bowden, ESPN.com “The AL Central’s strong offseason

[T]he Sanchez signing was essential to preserve the Tigers’ clearest advantage over their divisional foes — and potential October opponents. Detroit’s postseason rotation – Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Sanchez and Max Scherzer — posted a 5-1 record and 1.02 ERA against Oakland and New York in the AL playoffs. And now no member of that group will be eligible for free agency until Verlander and Scherzer after the 2014 season. – Jon Paul Morosi, FoxSports.com “Sanchez signing gives Tigers an edge

What do you think about the Sanchez contract?

Uncharted Territory

Ok, wait. Over the weekend I’m thinking, Catch a break or two and leave the Bronx even at a game a piece.

Then, after the Game 1 disaster turned miracle, I’m thinking, Don’t get greedy. But if another … something breaks the Tigers’ way, they could come home up two games to none. But get real.

Heading into Game 3, even with Justin Verlander going, my brain is saying, You can’t be surprised if things even out a bit. Even if they lose Game 3, the Tigers can win the A.L. pennant at home.

I didn’t even allow myself to consider – even for a moment – the notion of a three-games-to-none lead over the Yankees. But that’s where we are.

Seriously.

In 2006 the Tigers built a three-zip advantage over the A’s before sweeping them, so they have been here before. No offense to Ken Macha’s crew, but this feels different. Why? Because it’s the Yankees, of course. That’s why this all feels so new.

What are we supposed to think heading into Game 4, Max Scherzer versus CC Sabathia? We’re supposed to prepare ourselves for a little letdown, an inevitable Yankees win.

But I don’t think so. I expect the Tigers, a club that has done nothing easily this entire season, to go for the kill and end this series.

At least that’s what I think I think. I mean, who knows?

This all feels so new.

Tigers Wild Ride in ALCS Continues

And this evening I gleefully eat crow.

Justin Verlander or no, I didn’t expect the Tigers to win Game 5. After Wednesday night’s deflating extra-inning loss, my typically optimistic self thought the Tigers had run out of gas and that the Rangers were just too hot to lose.

Texas was making the most of their opportunities — lord knows they (and the Tigers with much less success) have had plenty this series — and how long could Detroit’s worn out pitching staff keep Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, the only Rangers not scorching the ball these days, in check? Not long, at least in the case of the former.

When Young doubled in the first inning, that queasy feeling of doom washed over me. Then I got angry: No way Verlander wilts in this situation. He didn’t.

Despite what some wrote, Verlander was terrific. Untouchable? No. But he had enough stuff, grit and determination to get the outs he needed at just the right time.

These same observers are saying the Tigers were lucky to win this game. Well, yeah — and it’s about time a bounce went Detroit’s way. And an ice-cold hitter hit a home run. And a starter went deep into the game. And someone other than Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde got the final outs. And a packed Comerica Park trembled one more time.

If the Tigers go on to win this series, imagine how we’ll remember a beaten down Alex Avila at last delivering a key hit with an opposite field home run, or how iconic Miguel Cabrera‘s sixth-inning double off the third-base bag will become in Detroit sports lore. Or Victor Martinez‘s triple when the man can hardly walk. Or Delmon Young‘s two rockets to left-center that put him in elite company in the Tigers’ postseason record book.

With Max Scherzer going in Game 6 — the first time the Tigers have been in a postseason Game 6 since 1968 — you have to feel good, don’t you? My guess is that he feels he has some unfinished business after Game 2 and will be on a mission Saturday night.

For now though, I’m going to savor this win and the crow I was forced to eat after not so much doubting the Tigers’ grit, but recognizing the offensive buzz saw that’s the Texas Rangers right now.

And you know what? Jim Leyland seems to be having the time of his life in this series. Perhaps it’s time I stop fretting every pitch and just enjoy the ride too.

Who’s with me?

Leftovers: Putting a Bow on the ALDS

It’s taken me about 22 hours to regain my regular heart rate but I think I’ve finally settled down.

Was Game 5 the best Tigers game I’ve ever seen? I keep asking myself and I couldn’t decide, mainly because the competition features games with different circumstances and consequences:

1984 ALCS Game 3

  • Scenario: Tigers ahead of Royals 2-0 in best-of-five
  • At Stake: Trip to World Series
  • Result: 1-0 win

1987 Final Weekend

  • Scenario: Tigers enter weekend one game behind the Blue Jays
    • Tigers take two of three, force one-game playoff
    • Blue Jays take two of three, they win A.L. East
    • Tigers sweep gives them division title
  • At Stake: A.L. East Title
  • Result: Tigers sweep

2006 ALCS Game 4

  • Scenario: Tigers ahead of A’s 3-0 in best of seven
  • At Stake: Trip to World Series
  • Result: 6-3 win

But then it was an easy choice. In all these other games the Tigers had room for error. Not Thursday night – or any game in the series. So, yep. This ALDS was the most grueling – and gratifying – set of games I’ve ever experienced in my Tigers-following life.

Other leftovers …

  • Remember when the Tigers acquired Doug Fister and led us to believe he’d be the fifth starter? If Fister’s the fifth man in the rotation, where does that put Brad Penny? Eighth? Truth is, Dave Dombrowski probably never thought of Fister anything less than what he’s proven himself to be: a number-two starter with ace-ish ability – and he proved it with gusto on Thursday night.
  • Here’s something about this five-game series that I’ve never experienced before: the difficulty I had enjoying the game as it was being played. Every pitch seemed to have so much hanging on it I resigned myself to studying the box score to get a reality check on a player’s performance. This was the case with Fister. As I watched Game 5, it sure seemed like he was throwing a gem — and lo and behold, he was: five innings pitched, five hits, one earned run, four strikeouts and just two walks.
  • And how about Magglio Ordonez? He hit .455 in the ALDS after going two for three in Game 5. Jim Leyland sure seems to be in perfect sync with Magglio, when to play him, when to give him a day off. With a couple of lefties on the horizon in the ALCS, I’m thinking we’ll see more Magglio rather than less.
  • If you can stand to watch (and I don’t recommend it), Around the Horn looks at Game 5 through the prism of “Praise the Tigers or Blame the Yankees?”

On the field, the Detroit Tigers did what tough baseball teams do, defeating the New York Yankees, 3-2, in a deciding Game 5 to win the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.

Off the field, the Detroit Tigers then did what all silly baseball teams do, celebrating the series victory with a raucous, over-the-top champagne party that was far greater than the entirety of their achievement.

Three wins. They were throwing a New Year’s Eve party for three wins. Think about that.

They were spraying each other over wins that could have occurred over the course of a long summer weekend. They were pouring it on each other for wins that totaled less than 12 hours.

The Detroit Tigers just played three good games, yet felt it necessary to celebrate with countless cases of liquor and cigars, and it just makes no sense.

It isn’t just the Tigers who do this, of course, it’s every baseball team after every postseason series win, the constantly popping corks adding to baseball’s reputation as a big fraternity house while diminishing the parties that really matter.

  • What do you think? I agree that in general watching four champagne celebrations is a bit much … when it’s not your team doing it. Here’s hoping we see another one in the next week or so.

And with that, adios, New York. Hello, Arlington.

Game 2 Recap: Tigers 5 – Yankees 3

ESPN highlights available here.
ScorecardXSmall.jpg
The Score: Tigers 5 – Yankees 3

The Gist: Miguel Cabrera got to Freddy Garcia early, crushing any potential mind games the Yankees’ starter could potentially play on the Tigers, lining a two-run homer down the rightfield corner. Cabrera finished with three hits and RBI. Victor Martinez and Don Kelly drove in the other two runs to give a cushion that wasn’t needed until the bottom of the ninth. The bulk of the day belonged to Max Scherzer who was brilliant, no-hitting the Yankees for six innings. I won’t go into Jose Valverde‘s appearance. If you were lucky enough to miss it, just know it was an inning fraught with panic and despair.

The Quote: “It’s going to be electric.” – Justin Verlander on the environment Monday night at Comerica Park for Game 3.

The Stat: 1 – The number of stolen bases by Cabrera, the only one in the game by either team.

Up Next:

Monday: Tigers vs. Yankees @ Comerica Park | 8:37 p.m. ET | On the air: TBS/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (19-8 3.00 ERA)

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Tigers’ 2011 X Factor: Phil Coke

In Phil Coke’s three-year major-league career, he’s finished 31 games and he’s started just one — the Tigers’ final game of the 2010 season. That outing could best be described as abbreviated; he threw 1.2 innings, allowing five hits, a walk and two runs.

What conclusions can we draw from this micro-sample size? Less than nothing.

That’s part of the reason Tigers fans are interested to see how Coke performs in 2011 now that he’s a member of the rotation, slotted neatly behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. That’s not to say Coke has no experience as a starter. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Coming up through the Yankees’ system in the mid-2000s, he worked predominately as a starter. From 2005-08, Coke started 77 games.

At Double-A Trenton in 2008, he started 20 games and posted a 2.51 ERA to go with his 9-4 record. That earned him a call-up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he was turned into a reliever.

Go figure.

Year Age Team Lg Lev W L W-L% ERA G GS CG IP
2005 22 Charleston SALL A 8 11 .421 5.42 24 18 0 103.0
2006 23 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-A 5 8 .385 3.19 27 20 1 127.0
2006 23 Charleston SALL A 0 1 .000 0.53 5 2 0 17.0
2006 23 Tampa FLOR A+ 5 7 .417 3.60 22 18 1 110.0
2007 24 Tampa FLOR A+ 7 3 .700 3.09 17 16 1 99.0
2008 25 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-AAA 11 6 .647 2.79 37 21 1 135.2
2008 25 Trenton EL AA 9 4 .692 2.51 23 20 1 118.1
2008 25 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL AAA 2 2 .500 4.67 14 1 0 17.1
6 Seasons 31 29 .517 3.61 125 77 3 496.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table | Generated 3/28/2011.

 

With his return to the rotation this spring, Coke posted a 3-2 record with a 2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings. Not shabby, but how will it play out over the long season? Lynn Henning today provided this assessment of Coke:

He looked good for much of the spring, but took some knocks late. The switch to starting is still in progress. If things don’t work out, he goes back to the bullpen, Andy Oliver moves in, and the Tigers probably strengthen their seventh-inning options. But they’ll give this experiment a full and necessary opportunity to work.

We’ll have to see what “a full and necessary opportunity” means. If Coke lasts as a starter, what’s the impact on the bullpen? Or, does it mean he’s more valuable in relief compared to the young arms the Tigers can summon to the rotation, such as Andy Oliver and/or Jacob Turner?

And it all hinges on Phil Coke. What do you think?

2010: The Year in Lists

2011Calendar.jpgA year ago, we were still stinging from Game 163 and not certain how the Tigers would respond to a crushing end to the 2009 season. Would they regress to 2008’s disappointment or regroup to erase the memory of the ’09 collapse?

The answer was: they’d be relevant. And that, ladies in gentlemen, is the extent of the analysis in this post. Instead of a deep dive into 2010, let’s look at the year in the form of randomly selected lists:

2010 At A Glance*

  • Record: 81-81, 3rd in American League Central, 13 games back of Minnesota
  • Days in First: 13, the last on July 10
  • Biggest Lead: 1, last on July 7
  • Farthest Behind: 15.5 on Sept. 15
  • Most Games over .500: 11, last on July 10
  • Most Games under .500: 5, last on Aug. 19
  • Longest Winning Streak: 7, June 11-18
  • Longest Losing Streak: 7, July 11-20
  • Most Runs Allowed: 15, June 9
  • Most Runs Scored: 13, Aug. 15
  • Longest Game (innings): 14, July 19
  • Times Shutout by Opponent: 10
  • Times Opponent Shutout: 5

Continue reading “2010: The Year in Lists”

Tuesday Tananas: Fred Lynn, Ted Power and Don Draper

bananas.jpgIs it just me or were there a lot of Aug. 31 trades made back in the day? Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s it seemed that Oakland was always adding a big name at the deadline — Willie McGee, Ruben Sierra, Harold Baines. Just asking.