DETROIT - Three times he went to the playoffs with Pittsburgh, once with Florida when he won the World Series and this is the fourth time to the postseason managing the Tigers.
Jim Leyland, in his eighth playoffs, has never had a starting rotation he trusts as much as the grouping of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
"We had a very good rotation in Florida in '97 when we were fortunate enough to win the World Series but it wasn't as good as this one," said Leyland. "This is the best that I've had. I'm not talking about other teams, other organizations, but for me, yes, it's the best postseason starting rotation I've ever had."
It could be that Leyland recalls fondly the guys he had on that Marlins team. That starting staff, which prominently featured the likes of Kevin Brown, Alex Fernandez, Al Leiter, Tony Saunders and the emergence of then-rookie Livan Hernandez, pitched to a 3.76 ERA for the regular season as the Marlins won 92 games and the National League wild card.
In the postseason, however, Florida didn't win the World Series on the strength of its rotation. The group combined to allow 56 earned runs over 93 1/3 innings for a 5.40 ERA. What that rotation was able to do was work deep into games despite giving up runs. Brown and Hernandez each had a complete game in the NLCS against the Braves and on nine occasions in the playoffs Leyland's starter pitched at least six innings.
Compare the numbers of Leyland's 1997 playoff rotation to those of his 2013 Tigers and it's an understatement to suggest his staff is the best he's had.
Detroit's starters have allowed 13 earned runs in 59 2/3 innings over nine playoff games so far. That's a 1.96 ERA. Only Sanchez, in Game 3 of the ALDS against Oakland, has failed to pitch at least six innings. In the ALCS against Boston alone, Tigers pitchers have struck out 53 Red Sox hitters, allowing three runs on 14 hits.
Yet the series is tied, 2-2. Blame the Tigers bullpen, or credit David Ortiz depending on your perspective, for Boston's Game 2 comeback and offer a tip of the cap to John Lackey for working pitch for pitch with Verlander in Game 3.
The Tigers' rotation is on a potentially historic playoff pace and it still may not be enough to vault the club into its second consecutive World Series and third in eight years.
"Just how things go this time of year," said Scherzer. "This is postseason. This is what happens when the two best teams face each other. You're going to face a battle. Series is going to be tied."
Sanchez and the Red Sox Jon Lester are set to square off in Game 5. There is no mathematical must-win for either team but the starting pitching, for what it's been worth, leans in favour of the Tigers.
Lose Game 5 and the Red Sox, despite being home, face the prospect of having to beat Scherzer and Verlander in back to back games on Saturday and Sunday.