Tigers give Scherzer Game 1 nod
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner followed by Verlander, Price, Porcello
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer didn't have quite the same numbers as his American League Cy Young Award season last year, but he arguably became a better pitcher. Justin Verlander had similar struggles as last year for most of the summer, but he again stepped up when Detroit needed him most.
They'll begin the postseason in the same place, fronting the Tigers' rotation. Scherzer will start Game 1 of their AL Division Series (5:37 p.m. ET on TBS) on Thursday in Baltimore, followed by Verlander for Game 2 on Friday afternoon.
David Price, the July 31 Trade Deadline acquisition brought in to fortify Detroit's rotation, will pitch Game 3 on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, followed by Rick Porcello for Game 4 (if necessary) on Monday.
If there was a surprise in the order, it wasn't Scherzer at the top. With Price having pitched the Tigers into the ALDS with his 7 1/3 shutout innings Sunday, he wasn't available, leaving Scherzer and Verlander as the main considerations.
Scherzer, manager Brad Ausmus said Tuesday, "has been our best pitcher. Actually, he was kind of lined up for Game 1 anyway. Had we had to play the Royals [in an AL Central tiebreaker], Verlander would've pitched that game, and then Max would've pitched the Wild Card [Game]."
That order was laid out well before the Tigers knew their opponent for the ALDS. Ausmus mapped out his rotation order for the final month of the season on a legal pad late in the summer.
Scherzer went 18-5 -- tying for the AL lead in wins -- with a 3.15 ERA, setting career highs with 220 1/3 innings and 252 strikeouts. He went 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA in five September starts, striking out 32 over 32 2/3 innings. Scherzer's two September wins over the Royals played a huge role in earning the Tigers their fourth straight AL Central title.
"Every pitch in the playoffs is crucial," Scherzer said last week. "It's so huge … so whatever game I do get into, I just know you have to be at your best. You have to bring your A-game. There is no other way to script it, because the moment you give these guys an inch, they hit it a mile. It only counts even more in the playoffs."
Scherzer beat Oakland in last year's ALDS opener with seven innings of three-hit ball and 11 strikeouts. He was in line to start Game 5, but he then pitched in relief in a must-win Game 4, earning the win despite giving up a run in two innings. Verlander started Game 5 instead, delivering eight shutout innings on two hits with 10 strikeouts.
The way the rotation lines up, Ausmus could end up with the same decision to make this time as his predecessor, Jim Leyland, faced last October.
"That was part of the thought process," Ausmus said in his decision, "but Max would be available for Game 5 as well, so that decision will come later."
Though Price could have started Game 2 on regular rest, Ausmus went with Verlander, who went 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA but gave up two runs over 15 1/3 innings in his final two starts -- one in Kansas City to widen the Tigers' division lead, the other against the White Sox to whittle their magic number.
"It seemed like it came together at the end of the season for me, the last couple starts," Verlander said. "Hopefully just keep riding that momentum and keep that going into the postseason."
Those last two starts, Ausmus acknowledged, factored into his ordering.
"There's a lot of things that go into it," Ausmus said. "You can look at it from any number of angles. You can look at it from postseason performance, you can look at it from how they pitched against the Orioles, you can look at it about these guys having tons of innings. Maybe the extra day of rest for David would be good. [If you] pitch Verlander Game 3, now you're really stretching him out, [because] he hadn't pitched in a while. You could slice this up a lot of different ways."
Price knows the O's as well as any Tigers starter, having faced them as a divisional rival for years with the Rays. However, Verlander is 9-2 with a 3.43 ERA for his career against Baltimore, including 7-0 with a 2.84 ERA lifetime at Camden Yards.
"I looked at those numbers," Ausmus said, "and you can look at numbers against a team. But let's be honest, the turnover in team rosters is so significant now these days that a pitcher's record versus one team over the past six years has very little bearing on the team he's facing today. I looked at it and ultimately I felt like this was the best way to go."