Ferguson: Tigers pitchers putting together historic season

Scott Ferguson
9/20/2013 11:18:32 AM
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So what would you rather have: a line-up with at least five players with 20 or more homers, or a starting pitching staff of five players with 13 or more victories? It's a no-brainer really. You take the pitching and run if you want to be a contender. Why did I throw out that comparison? Well, it related directly to the Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers.

The Jays became the first team in the Majors this season to have five players with at least 20 homers: Edwin Encarnacion (36), Jose Bautista (28), Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind (22) apiece and J.P Arencibia (20). On the other hand, the Tigers have five starters with at least 13 victories after Doug Fister won his 13th on Thursday. He joined the club that includes Max Scherzer (19), Anibal Sanchez (14), Justin Verlander (13) and Rick Porcello (13).

All five have winning records and oddly enough Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in the American League, has the worst winning percentage with a 13-12 mark. The Tigers also have three starters who have cracked 200 innings: Verlander (206.1), Scherzer and Fister (201.1). The other two starters are pretty much a lock to break 180 innings.

Health has certainly factored into this. Detroit has only had to use one other starter this season. Jose Alvarez went to the mound five times and was 1-4 with just one quality start while pitching only 34 innings.

The improvement in Sanchez, Fister and  Porcello has been dramatic over a year ago, and has more than made up for a dip in performance by Verlander this season. Sanchez, an in-season pick-up a year ago, was only (4-6) with Detroit. Fister was (10-10) and Porcello only (10-12).

It's in quality starts where you notice the big difference in that trio. They went from 38 last season to 58 this season. That kind of production takes pressure off the bullpen and gives skipper Jim Leyland the valuable time to sort out his closer situation. By the way, Joaquin Benoit is 22-22 as the closer since taking over from Jose Valverde.

I know wins aren't the be all and end all for pitchers but to me, what the Tigers starters have done seems to be taking on historic overtones.

The 1971 Baltimore Orioles were the last team, and the first since the 1920 Chicago White Sox, to have four 20-game winners. The O's quartet included Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cueller and Pat Dobson. Yet there has to be something said for having five pitchers with 13 or more in this day and age.

Let's compare them to the last three World Series winners. The 2012 Giants only used six starters all season, like the Tigers this year. They had two 16-game winners in Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito had 15 and Ryan Vogelsong had 14, but Tim Lincecum struggled to a 10-15 mark. Edge to the Tigers.

How about the 2010 Giants? They only had three starters in double digits in victories; Lincecum with 16, then Cain and Jonathan Sanchez with 13 each. Sandwiched in between is the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. They had four starters with at least 13 wins including ex-Jay Chris Carpenter (21), Jaime Garcia (18), Kyle Lohse (16) and Jake Westbrook (13). Again, edge to the Tigers.

Finally, what about the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won a record 116 games and lost only 46. They had four starters with at least 15 wins, including Jamie Moyer (20), Freddy Garcia (18), Paul Abbott (17)
and Aaron Sele (15). If you combine the other two prime starters, John Halama and Joel Piniero, you get 16 wins, but that's six starters, so for me, the edge still goes to the Tigers. Incidentally, as great as the Mariners were, they dropped the ALCS to the Yankees in five games.

What does all of this mean to Detroit? Not much if they don't win the World Series but it may be a very long time before we see five starters put together a season like this.

This and That
The Baltimore Orioles still have a shot at a Wild Card slot. If they get there, their defence has to get as much credit as their offence. The 0's have played 115 errorless games this season and that's the best mark since 1900.
Vernon Wells of the Yankees has played 1,726 Major League games without ever having played in the post-season. The only other active player with a long drought is Adam Dunn of the White Sox with 1,863. Sadly for Vernon, it was his former team the Blue Jays that pretty much snuffed out his hopes for another season Thursday night with that 6-2 win over the Pinstripes at Rogers Centre.
Only fitting that the Dodgers should be the first club to clinch a division title. After a miserable 30-42 start that had skipper Don Mattingly worried about his job, L.A was 9 1/2 games back of Arizona entering play on June 22nd. From that point on, they went 58-23, including a 42-8 run at one point, and wrapped up the NL West with 10 days to play in the season. They also clinched right in the ball park of the second place DiamondBacks with a 7-6 victory.

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