As they point out over at Bless You Boys, any of the top three starting pitchers for the Detroit Tigers would be worthy to go in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night. With the club fully rested from a not-too-stressful end of the regular season, there is no wrong choice for manager Jim Leyland to make among right-handers Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez.
Leyland went with the most right guy from the job, announcing Tuesday that Scherzer will be first out of the chute.
Scherzer finished 11th in the majors with a 2.90 ERA, was second with 240 strikeouts and came in just behind Clayton Kershaw with 6.4 fWAR. And, with a sparkling 21-3 won-loss record for a pennant contender, Scherzer is the likely Cy Young winner in the AL.
Scherzer faces Oakland's Bartolo Colon.
Scherzer has earned the right to lead, though Leyland almost certainly thought about Verlander, who didn't post Cy Young-type numbers and had some obvious struggles during the season. Verlander's walks per nine and hits per nine innings were his worst since 2008, but he still has that "ace" aura about him. It was just two years ago he won the Cy and MVP, and he finished second in Cy voting a season ago. And it's not like Verlander has turned into Zombie Mike Maroth. He did strike out 217 in 218 innings. It's just that his 13-12 record looks inelegant. Tell you what: If Verlander finished something like 21-3, he's probably starting Game 1 instead of Scherzer.
Verlander faces Oakland rookie Sonny Gray.
Perhaps, Leyland is thinking, Verlander won't come out too amped up in Game 2 if the Tigers have a game in the books in the series already. When Verlander comes out throwing 100 mph in the first inning, it has been said, it's a bad sign. He's too excited. Still, who knows what Leyland is thinking and who knows what Verlander is thinking?
The scheduled starter for Game 3, Sanchez led the AL with a 2.57 ERA, and could be the Tigers best pitcher at any given moment, but they've always seemed to try and protect him from having to lead the staff. The series returns to Detroit's spacious ballpark for Sanchez's start, which ought to be comforting.
Sanchez faces Oakland's Jarrod Parker in Game 3.
Doug Fister is scheduled to go in Game 4, if it's necessary, and that seems to be a perfect spot for him. He'll face Dan Straily.
It's interesting, though, how deep Detroit's rotation is: The fifth starter, Rick Porcello, has a nearly identical xFIP to Scherzer. The xFIP is an advanced stat that predicts what a pitcher's expected ERA if defense were taken out of the equation. And yet, if you asked 1,000 people who watched the Tigers this season if Porcello should be starting in this series, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone supporting him.
So ... stats. What can you do with them? No matter what the numbers say, Leyland is going with his grizzled gut. And it's telling him to do the right thing.