The Tigers passed their first playoff test Tuesday without breaking a sweat – making a hard decision look easy, united and smart.
“The rotation is gonna be Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez and Fister,” Jim Leyland announced, just seconds into his first official postseason press comments. “That will be our rotation for the playoffs.”
He said it quickly, definitively and, technically, three days before he had to. He admitted there was no point in being cute, or trying to hide it. They made the decision, why not tell the media? “It gives your readers time to second-guess it,” Leyland joked.
Meanwhile, a half hour later, Scherzer was in the locker room telling the media “It’s awesome,” while Justin Verlander pulled on a gray T-shirt and answered the obvious first question: “How do you feel about not being chosen the No. 1 starter?”
“It doesn’t mater to me,” Verlander said, allowing a small chuckle. “The day my number is called is the day I’m gong to go out and pitch. … Hey, you know what? If it was me, I’d probably have made the same decision because Max has had a magical season. And when a guy has a season like that and everything is going right, why not ride it?”
Right answer. Right call.
He earned it
I have been thinking about this conundrum the past few days – you probably have been, too – and in the end, this would have been my rotation, too.
Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister.
Why? Well. You can’t argue against Scherzer, who is likely a Cy Young winner this year and who didn’t just win a lot of games (21-3), he pitched tough. He struck guys out. He does well in big games.
Frankly, he earned it. You’d have a lot of explaining to do in the clubhouse if a player performs as well as Scherzer did, then gets passed over because someone else has superstar status.
Verlander, meanwhile, does have a Cy Young and an MVP and, over a macro view, is clearly the ace of this staff. You don’t want to insult him with a No. 3 slot, even if he only had the fifth-best record among the starters this year.
By making him No. 2, you are still nodding to his legacy by slotting him ahead of Anibal Sanchez (who had more wins and a lower ERA), but what you lose with Sanchez not pitching Game 2 you gain in the fact that Game 3 will be in Comerica Park, where Sanchez is a far better this year than on the road.
See? A win-win.
Well, hopefully a win-win-win.
Check the weather
“I truly feel that I could start any one of my guys and I would feel comfortable,” Leyland said. “But … the kind of year Scherzer’s had … I think that’s kind of hard to argue.”
“We’re all a team here for one single goal, and that’s to win a World Series,” Verlander said. “So whether it’s Game 1 or Game 17, it doesn’t matter to me. Just go out there and do my job.”
Now let’s remember a few things. Your Game 1 starter is mostly significant because he has the best chance to pitch twice in a five-game series. But given this year’s division championship schedule, Verlander could pitch Game 5 on normal rest as well.
Meanwhile, remember these variable factors: 1) If your ace pitches Game 5, he won’t be pitching Game 1 of the next round, so all this goes away. 2) Once you get to a seven-game series, if you reach Game 7, it’s all hands on deck anyhow. 3) Sometimes it rains.
Remember 2011? Verlander was the ace, started Game 1’s, and twice his starts were affected by weather. We were wishing he’d been the No. 2.
So you never know. But we do know this rotation thing was potentially a small disruptive grenade – and, instead, Leyland handled it definitively, Verlander handled it gracefully, the coaching staff concluded it smartly. And we still have two days before the first pitch.
Right call. Smart call.
Now about Jhonny Peralta …