By Jeff Dickson, Director of Food & Beverage
Led by Cy Young favorite, MVP candidate and staff ace Justin Verlander, the Detroit Tigers cruised to the finish line in the American League Central race this season. With a 24-5 record and league leading 2.29 ERA Verlander is essentially a lock for the American League Cy Young award and will garner strong consideration in the MVP race, no small feat considering how few pitchers are in the running for that award let alone finish at the top.
There will undoubtedly be a lot of pressure put on the Detroit hurler, but that has been the case all season long as the Tigers more closely resemble a mediocre team when Verlander is not on the mound than the contender they are when he is, as shown by the fact that they are only 8th in the league in runs against despite his outstanding numbers.
The Detroit offense is good, not great, but could be enough for a deep run if they can follow the lead of superstar Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, always an MVP candidate, is having another superb season, even if it has been a bit overshadowed by Verlander. With a .331 batting average and .997 OPS, both good for second in the league, Cabrera is undoubtedly the key to the Detroit offense. Victor Martinez has been a nice addition to the lineup and Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila have played well, but this offense belongs to Cabrera almost as much as the pitching staff does to Verlander.
Behind Verlander the Tigers rotation is fairly thin, but the midseason addition of Doug Fister from Seattle has given them a solid number two pitcher. With Detroit Fister has gone 7-1 with a 2.02 and an equally sparkling .898 WHIP. The rest of the rotation is made up of veteran Brad Penny, who has struggled this season, and youngsters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello who have yet to establish themselves with any consistency.
The bullpen in Detroit doesn’t get much attention with Verlander being the talk of the town, but it is solid nonetheless. Closer Jose Valverde has saved 46 games to go along with a 2.41 ERA and set up man Joaquin Benoit has been a nice addition coming over from Tampa Bay with his 27 holds and 3.12 ERA. Al Alburquerque (2.04 ERA) may have the best stuff of anyone in the bullpen, however, and his team high 14.07 strikeouts per nine innings shows just how unhittable he can be. It may be tough for the Tigers to win if Verlander and Fister are not at the top of their games, but the bullpen could give them a chance to come in and shut the door if the other starters struggle, giving Cabrera and the offense a chance to steal a win.
How the Tigers can lose:
The worst case scenario for the Tigers is that Verlander gets beat in the first game of the ALDS, leaving it up to Fister and whoever manager Jim Leyland goes with to fill out the rotation. Coming back from a loss wouldn’t be impossible, but the psychological hit the team might take could be too much to overcome. Detroit is putting all of their eggs in Verlanders baskets, fair or not, and they may need to win every game he pitches to go all the way.
How the Tigers can win:
Verlander dominates, Fister shines and Cabrera thrives. That is a bit of a simplified answer, but if the top two in the rotation get the job done and Cabrera can lead the offense then the Tigers have a legitimate chance to win the whole darn thing.
Jeff is entering his second season with the ‘Dads and first as the director of food & beverage. The Oneonta, NY native joined the Crawdads in 2011 as a concessions assistant, and has previously worked with the Oneonta Outlaws as a sports marketing intern. Jeff is a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and North Carolina Tar Heels.