Showing posts with label Max Scherzer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Max Scherzer. Show all posts

Monday, January 19, 2015

Max Scherzer agrees to $210 million deal with Washington Nationals

Most White Sox fans will be happy to see Max Scherzer pitching somewhere other than the AL Central this season, after the former Detroit ace agreed to a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

More on the AL Central implications of this signing in a moment, but first, let's take a look at what this move means for the Nationals, who had the best record in the National League last year and will likely enter the 2015 season as a favorite to go to the World Series.

First off, the contract isn't as outrageous as it sounds, at least in terms of annual salary. Sources indicate half of that $210 million is deferred, and that Scherzer will be making $15 million a year for each of the next 14 years.

There had been previous speculation that Washington would have to trade either pitcher Jordan Zimmermann or shortstop Ian Desmond in order to add Scherzer and still make its bottom line work. If Scherzer was making $30 million annually, that probably would be the case. But since he's making "just" $15 million a year, maybe the Nationals will be able to hold on to other key players and make an "all-in" push this season.

Zimmermann will be a free agent after the season, and it's unlikely the Nationals will be able to retain him when he hits the open market. But if I'm Washington, I'm not concerned with that right now. I've got Scherzer, Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg at the top of my rotation. I've got Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark as options for the final two spots in my rotation. What other team in the National League can match that kind of depth in starting pitching?

I don't see another team in the NL that strong 1 to 6. The Nationals should forget about Zimmermann's impending free agency, keep him and go for it this year. That acquisition of Scherzer is a "go for it now" move. You have to believe that's their mindset.

As for Detroit, this is a big loss for the Tigers, no matter what public spin they try to put on it. Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA last year, after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and winning the Cy Young award in 2013. Scherzer has more wins (39) and more strikeouts (492) than any other pitcher in the majors over the past two years. Even if Detroit goes out and signs James Shields to fill Scherzer's rotation spot, that's hard production to replace.

Here is how Detroit's rotation looked at the end of last season: Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello.

Here is Detroit's projected rotation for 2015 today: Price, Verlander, Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene.

Will that rotation be good enough for the Tigers to win the Central again this year? Maybe. That top three is still formidable, but don't you think that first list with Scherzer and Porcello is more impressive than this second list with Simon and Greene? I certainly do.

Scherzer's departure provides hope to all other teams in the AL Central, including the White Sox. In his career, Scherzer is 12-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 23 starts against Chicago. He's tough on everybody, but he's been better against the Sox than he's been against the league overall.

As a Sox fan, I'll take my chances against Simon and Greene. I'd also take my chances against Shields over Scherzer, if the Tigers do indeed decide they need to make another big acquisition for their rotation. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Victor Martinez re-signs with Detroit Tigers

Designated hitter Victor Martinez has agreed to a four-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Detroit Tigers, according to AP sources.

Martinez, 35, is an American League MVP candidate after hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs for the 2014 Central Division champion Tigers. The switch-hitter missed the whole 2012 season with a knee injury, but aside from that, he's been a consistent offensive force for nearly a decade. He has hit over .300 in eight of his last nine seasons.

That said, the Tigers are taking a risk here with the length of this contract. Martinez will be 36 years old when the 2015 season begins. His batting average and home run total this past year were career bests, and he's unlikely to meet or exceed those numbers again. He will still be a productive middle-of-the-order presence even if he regresses to his career norms, but for how long will he be able to play at this same level? Nobody knows for sure.

White Sox fans who were hoping to see their team sign Martinez this offseason should not despair. Yes, the Sox need somebody who can swing the bat from the left side to put between Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in the middle of the batting order, but I would caution against giving a four-year deal to a soon-to-be 36-year-old who doesn't do anything but DH.

It makes more sense for the Tigers to hand out this kind of contract, because they are in their window to win. In fact, they might be coming toward the end of that window. Injuries and Father Time seem to be taking their toll on both Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter are free agents this offseason. Who knows if they'll be back? If you're the Tigers, a team with an aging core, there has to be urgency to get things done right now. If Scherzer walks away, they are going to need their offense to carry them on a lot of nights, and Martinez was their best hitter last year. For them, he was a "must-keep," and the contract they handed out reflects that.

From a White Sox perspective, they are likely a year and potentially two away from returning to legitimate contention. If they had been able to add Martinez to their lineup, sure, they would be immediately better. But he wouldn't fix the problems with the pitching staff, and by the time the Sox are ready to win, Martinez would be 38 years old and likely in decline. Unless you're ready to win right now, it doesn't make much sense to add a designated hitter at the price of more than $16 million a year.

Just in general, I think it would behoove the Sox to seek younger players who can provide long-term solutions to the holes on the roster. Martinez, to me, is not one of those guys. Much like the Tigers as a team, he's coming toward the end of his window for success. In that regard, team and player are a perfect fit for each other.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thursday produces two wins for perceived ALDS underdogs

The prevailing wisdom says the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels are on a collision course to meet in the American League Championship Series.

Naturally, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals have other ideas, and both perceived underdogs threw a wrench in that plan Thursday with Game 1 victories in AL Division Series action.

The Orioles took advantage of Detroit's leaky defense and lousy bullpen by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking open a tight contest on their way to a 12-3 victory.

Meanwhile, third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning to lift the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Angels.

Baltimore's rotation: Better than we think?

Anyone else think the experts are underestimating the Orioles? They won 96 games this year. They must have done something right.

I keep hearing Detroit has an overpowering edge in starting pitching. I'll be honest: I disagree with that. Detroit's starting pitchers are all prominent media names, but they haven't necessarily pitched better than the guys in the Baltimore rotation throughout the season.

We saw today how things don't always go the way you might expect. Quite a few observers assumed Detroit ace Max Scherzer was going to own Baltimore's Game 1 starter, Chris Tillman.

That did not happen. Tillman only lasted five innings, but he allowed just two runs and left the mound with his team leading, 3-2. He ended up getting the win.

Scherzer took the loss, allowing five earned runs over 7.1 innings pitched.

Shocking? Not really.

Scherzer had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP this year. In comparison, Tillman had a 3.34 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Sure, you would have to give Scherzer the edge on paper in that matchup, but not decisively so.

The Game 2 matchup in this series is an interesting one. Detroit's Justin Verlander has the Cy Young awards and the playoff experience. He also has a puffy 4.54 ERA, his worst since the 2008 season. Baltimore's Wei-Yin Chen is unfamiliar to casual fans, but don't underestimate him: He won 16 games this year and posted a 3.54 ERA -- a full run better than Verlander. It's hard to bet against Verlander in the playoffs, but his mound opponent is formidable. Game 2 is hardly a slam dunk for the Tigers.

Looking ahead to Game 3, Detroit will send David Price to the mound against Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez. Again, Price has a Cy Young award and the playoff experience. But it's Gonzalez who posted the better ERA this year (3.23 to 3.26).

This isn't to say the Detroit starters won't ultimately outpitch the Baltimore starters over the course of this five-game series. They might. But keep this in mind: The Orioles have a great chance to win if their starters are good enough to keep the game close into the late innings.

Here's why: Baltimore has a nasty bullpen. Closer Zach Britton and his power 96 mph sinker totaled 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA this year. The Orioles have a outstanding lefty-righty combination setting him up. Midseason acquisition Andrew Miller had a 1.35 ERA in 23 games with the O's since coming over from Boston. Darren O'Day, the right-handed setup guy, posted a 1.70 ERA this season.

We saw all three of those relievers in Thursday's game. The Tigers found out they are pretty tough to beat.

Two of the relievers Detroit is counting on to work in high-leverage situations, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria, contributed to that eight-run eighth inning meltdown in this opening loss. You better believe the bullpen is a huge concern for the Tigers. Detroit's 4.29 bullpen ERA was third worst in the majors this year.

Yes, Detroit has a bit of an edge in starting pitching, primarily because of all that playoff experience among Scherzer, Verlander and Price. However, I don't believe it's a huge edge. If there's a huge edge in this series, it's the advantage the Baltimore bullpen enjoys over the Detroit relievers.

All the Oriole starters really need to do is keep it close into the late innings. That's what Tillman did Thursday. Baltimore got its desired result.

Can the Royals pull it off? 

If you're looking for a reason to believe Kansas City can upset the 98-win Angels, here it is: Los Angeles has a starting pitching staff that is in disarray.

Jered Weaver is the Angels' lone reliable starter, and he pitched well in Game 1 on Thursday. However, Kansas City's Jason Vargas matched him. The game was tied, 2-2, when the starters left, and the Angels' bullpen blinked first with Moustakas hitting the home run off Fernando Salas.

Los Angeles has burned up its best starter and trails in the series. The Angels will be counting on rookie Matt Shoemaker, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 15 due to an oblique strain, in Game 2. C.J. Wilson is in line to pitch Game 3 for Los Angeles. Wilson has had a terrible second half -- his ERA is 6.05 over his last 16 starts.

The Angels definitely miss ace Garrett Richards, who is gone for the year with a serious knee injury.

Kansas City has a shot if it can take advantage of the iffy Angels starters. The Royals are 65-4 when leading after six innings, so it could be tough for Los Angeles if its pitchers put them behind early in games.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Max Scherzer outduels Chris Sale in marquee pitching matchup

There aren't many hitters in the American League who routinely get the best of White Sox ace Chris Sale. Detroit Tigers 1B/DH Victor Martinez can count himself among the few.

Martinez hit a solo home run off Sale in the top of the fifth inning Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field, and that proved to be the game-winning hit as the Tigers avoided a sweep with a 4-0 win over Chicago.

Martinez is now 13 for 25 (.520) with two home runs in his career against Sale.

The much-anticipated pitching matchup between Sale and reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer did not disappoint.

As we've noted, Justin Verlander is no longer the Detroit ace. Scherzer is, and he delivered the first complete-game shutout of his career (179 starts) on Thursday. The right-hander limited the Sox to just three hits, while striking out eight and walking three. Only twice did Chicago have two baserunners in the same inning. The Sox' best scoring chance came in the fourth when they had runners at second and third with two outs after Conor Gillaspie reached on an error and Alexei Ramirez doubled. However, Scherzer (8-2) retired Dayan Viciedo on a flyout to avoid any damage.

Sale (5-1) once again pitched extremely well. He simply got outpitched in suffering his first loss of the season. He allowed only one run on five hits over seven innings. He struck out 10 hitters (all swinging) and walked none.

Unfortunately for the Sox, Sale had thrown 116 pitches through seven innings and had to be removed from the game. The Tigers scored two runs in the eighth off reliever Jake Petricka and another run in the ninth off Daniel Webb.

But on this night, all Scherzer needed was one run, and the Sox missed a chance to get out the brooms against Detroit for the first time since 2008.

Yes, you read that right. The last time the Sox swept a three-game series against Detroit: April 4-6, 2008. Six years is a long time to go without a sweep against a team you play 18 times every year.

Suffice to say it will be easier for the Sox to beat Detroit once Martinez and his .327 lifetime average against Chicago retire. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Justin Verlander: Are his best days behind him?

To this point in the season, most observers are assuming the Detroit Tigers will win the AL Central Division for the fourth consecutive year.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that assumption is correct. After all, the Tigers have the second-best record in the American League (28-19) entering Tuesday's action, and they possess a five-game lead in the division.

No other AL Central team is above .500. The White Sox (26-27) enter Tuesday in second place, but they are closer to last place than first. Chicago, Kansas City (24-26), Minnesota (23-25) and Cleveland (24-28) are separated in the standings by just 1.5 games.

Is there any reason at all to believe the Tigers can be had this year? Well, you have to look pretty hard, but here's one thing Detroit should be concerned about: Veteran ace Justin Verlander is no longer pitching like a Cy Young award candidate.

The 31-year-old is 5-4 with 4.04 ERA in 11 starts this year. Those numbers are ordinary to say the least, and his peripherals are also not impressive. Verlander's 1.514 WHIP is well above his career mark of 1.203, and above the career-worst 1.403 he posted during his struggling 2008 season.

Moreover, Verlander's K rate has fallen off a cliff. He has fanned just 50 batters in 71.1 IP this year. That's not good for a pitcher who has averaged roughly one strikeout per inning in every season since 2009.

Verlander's month of May has been terrible. He's 2-3 with a 6.03 ERA in his last five starts, and he has surrendered five earned runs or more in each of his last three outings. That's not like Justin Verlander.

Maybe this is a just a slump, but Verlander was coming off a "down" 2013 by his standards, in which he went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA. In fact, if you look at the last five years you can see that Verlander is on a decline since his 2011 peak:

201018-9, 3.37 ERA 219 Ks in 224.1 IP1.163 WHIP
201124-5, 2.40 ERA251Ks in 251 IP 0.920 WHIP
201217-8, 2.64 ERA239 Ks in 238.1 IP1.057 WHIP
201313-12, 3.46 ERA217 Ks in 218.1 IP1.315 WHIP
20145-4, 4.04 ERA50 Ks in 71.1 IP1.514 WHIP

From these numbers, we can't say Verlander is bad now.  However,  he's starting to profile more as a No. 3 starter than the ace he has been in the past. There's really not much question Max Scherzer has overtaken him as the Tigers' best pitcher.

Starting pitching is the edge Detroit enjoys over the rest of the division, but that advantage becomes a little less if Verlander's day to pitch becomes more of a coin toss than a likely Detroit victory. That's where things stand now. It remains to be seen whether Verlander can regain his ace form. The Tigers need him to if they want to make it back to the World Series and win it.

But, even if Verlander is no longer an ace, it remains a open question whether the other teams in the AL Central, all of which have significant warts, will play well enough to take advantage anyway.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Rangers for Ian Kinsler

How is this for a trade nobody saw coming? The Detroit Tigers have agreed to send first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The particulars are still being finalized, but it's a one-for-one deal. There are no prospects involved, and that's the thing that makes this trade so intriguing. How often do you see two established major league players traded straight up for each other? Not too often. Most trades nowadays involve veteran players being dealt for future considerations. That's not the case here.

So, which team got the better of this deal? It's an interesting debate, and I've heard good arguments made for both sides. My vote goes to Detroit, even though I acknowledge that Fielder will likely be more productive for Texas in 2014 than Kinsler will be for the Tigers.

To me, Detroit wins this deal because of the money it just freed up. Fielder's contract is an albatross. The 29-year-old slugger has seven years and $168 million remaining on his deal, and his numbers have slipped. You can make a case Fielder's production in 2013 did not justify his hefty paycheck. If he's overpaid now, he's really going to be overpaid three or four years down the road when his skills further erode.

Here are Fielder's statistics over the last three years. Note the downward trend in on-base and slugging percentage:

2011: .299/.415/.566, 38 home runs, 120 RBIs
2012: .313/.412/.528, 30 home runs, 108 RBIs
2013: .279/.362/.457, 25 home runs, 106 RBIs

To be fair, the 31-year-old Kinsler's numbers have slipped as well:

2011: .255/.355/.477, 32 home runs, 77 RBIs
2012: .256/.326/.423, 19 home runs, 72 RBIs
2013: .277/.344/.413, 13 home runs, 72 RBIs

However, Kinsler is owed just $62 million over the next four years, a much more manageable figure, and he plays a premium defensive position. Reports indicate the Tigers are paying the Rangers $30 million to take Fielder off their hands. So, instead of paying $168 million for Fielder, Detroit is coughing up a combined total of $92 million for Kinsler and the payout to the Rangers.

That provides the Tigers with a net savings of $76 million, which is huge because Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season. Two-time league MVP Miguel Cabrera hits free agency after the 2015 season. Suddenly, Detroit has a lot more money to play with if it desires to extend the contracts of those two players, both of whom have been more important to the team's success than Fielder.

In addition, the Tigers will be able to bolster their defense by moving the immobile Cabrera away from third base and back to first base where he belongs. Kinsler solidifies second base for them. Third base is an open question, but prospect Nick Castellanos seems poised to get a look. Detroit could also sign a defense-first infielder like Juan Uribe to provide some insurance at the position. With Victor Martinez as the designated hitter, Cabrera still should have adequate protection in the lineup. Even without Fielder, the Tigers will look like favorites in the AL Central, and they'll have money to spend to retain key pieces like Scherzer and Cabrera.

What about Texas? Well, the Rangers needed a middle-of-the-order bat, and they got one. Fielder is a clear upgrade over Mitch Moreland at first base. Texas could pursue Robinson Cano to take Kinsler's place at second base, but more than likely, the Rangers will slide highly regarded prospect Jurickson Profar into that spot.

I tend to believe Fielder will help the Rangers in the short run, maybe another two decent-to-good years, but players with Fielder's body type don't tend to age well. By the time 2017 rolls around, Texas is going to be stuck with a bad contract for a portly first baseman who can't play anymore. Better win now, Rangers.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So, trading for Max Scherzer worked out well for the Tigers

I often say it's hard to make snap judgments when a trade is made. You often need three or four years before you can decide whether a particular deal is good or bad for the parties involved.

It's now been four years since the Detroit Tigers acquired right-hander Max Scherzer as part of a three-team deal with the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arizona gave up Scherzer in that trade, and I'll bet that's a move they still lament to this day. On Wednesday, Scherzer was named the Cy Young Award winner in the American League by a landslide. He received 28 of the 30 first-place votes.

Scherzer, the lone 20-game winner in baseball this year, finished the season 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the AL Central champion Tigers. He easily outdistanced second-place finisher Yu Darvish in the voting.

Let's go back and look at that trade from December of 2009.

The Tigers traded pitcher Edwin Jackson and outfielder Curtis Granderson and received Scherzer, outfielder Austin Jackson and relief pitchers Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth.

The Yankees dealt pitcher Ian Kennedy, Coke and Austin Jackson and acquired Granderson.

The Diamondbacks gave up Scherzer and Schlereth and got Edwin Jackson and Kennedy.

If you're an Arizona fan, are you gagging yet?

Edwin Jackson had a brutal year for the Diamondbacks in 2010. He's played for three teams since. Currently, he's the Cubs' problem. Kennedy did have a couple good years in Arizona, including one very good year in 2011, but he's since fallen on hard times. The Diamondbacks traded him to San Diego for spare parts and future considerations in a midseason deal this past summer.

Likewise, the Yankees got a couple good years out of Granderson, but he had an injury-plagued 2013. He's a free agent this offseason and is likely headed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Tigers got a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter in Scherzer and a leadoff hitter and top-notch center fielder in Austin Jackson.

Shrewd move by Detroit. The Tigers have made more good moves than bad over the last five years, and that's why they go to the playoffs every season.

Kershaw wins NL Cy Young

The National League Cy Young Award voting was also one-sided. Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was a slam-dunk choice, earning 29 of 30 first-place votes.

Kershaw finished 16-9 for the NL West champions, and his 1.83 ERA was the best mark by any qualifying pitcher in the last 13 years.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Detroit's dumbest move: Throwing David Ortiz a first pitch changeup

The Detroit Tigers pitching staff continues to do things that have never been done before.

Starter Max Scherzer went 5 2/3 innings without giving up a hit in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday night. The Tigers became the first team in postseason history to have a starting pitcher carry a no-hitter into the sixth inning in three consecutive games.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, on Sunday they also became the first team in postseason history to have four different pitchers give up a single run in the same inning. When David Ortiz hit a first-pitch changeup from closer Joaquin Benoit out of the park for a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque and Benoit were all charged with one run.

Ortiz's blast erased a 5-1 Boston deficit, and the Red Sox went on to win 6-5 and even the best-of-seven series at 1-1. Predictably, motownsports.com exploded with criticism of Detroit manager Jim Leyland. Scherzer had thrown 108 pitches threw seven, but he wasn't allowed to start the eighth inning. Did he have another inning in him? Maybe, but Scherzer said he was done at that point after the game. Did Leyland overmanage by using those four relief pitchers to try to get through the eighth inning? Perhaps. I'm not a big proponent of the lefty-righty, batter-by-batter stuff. I always figure if you use enough relief pitchers, eventually you'll land on a guy who doesn't have his best stuff that day.

All that said, Leyland had his best reliever on the mound to face Ortiz. The odds were still in the Tigers' favor. They were up four, there were two outs, and the pressure was on Ortiz to do something to get his team back in the game.

Ortiz did just that, but I think he was helped by the worst decision any Tigers player or manager made all evening: They threw something offspeed on the first pitch of the sequence. I'm pretty sure the veteran Ortiz has seen that trick before. The pitcher assumes the hitter is looking first-pitch fastball with the bases loaded, so he tries to flip a sloppy offspeed offering up there in hopes of grabbing a first-pitch strike and getting ahead in the count. That kind of crap works against younger hitters. It didn't work against Ortiz, who ripped the ball into the right-field bullpen, a hit that definitely turned the game around and possibly the entire series.

Bad thought process, bad pitch. Throwing a changeup in that situation was worse than any of the questionable decisions Leyland made throughout the game. Next time, throw Ortiz a well-located fastball on the first pitch.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Justin Verlander vs. ???? in ALDS Game 5

A year ago, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's battled it out for five games in the American League Division Series. Once again this season, the two teams are going to play five games in the ALDS.

The Tigers made it so by rallying for an 8-6 win over the A's on Tuesday. The Detroit victory tied the series at 2-2 and set up a decisive Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday night.

Detroit will be forced to alter its rotation after using 21-game winner Max Scherzer for two innings of relief in Game 4. Scherzer picked up the win after pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the top of the eighth inning. The Tigers were leading by just a run (5-4) at the time. They scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to break it open, then held off an Oakland rally in the ninth inning.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland could afford to use Scherzer in relief in Game 4 because he has Justin Verlander lined up to pitch on regular rest in Game 5. You may recall that Verlander fired a complete-game, four-hit shutout in Game 5 to clinch a series win in Oakland last October. He also pitched seven innings of shutout ball in Game 2 of this series, only to see his team lose 1-0 after he left the mound. Verlander has struck out 22 and allowed no runs in the last 16 postseason innings he has pitched against the A's. Yeah, he's a pretty good fallback option for the Tigers.

The pitching decision for Oakland isn't so cut-and-dried for Game 5. Do they go back to their Game 1 starter, Bartolo Colon, a 40-year-old veteran who went 18-6 this season? Or do they start Sonny Gray, the 23-year-old rookie who matched Verlander pitch for pitch in Game 2?

A's manager Bob Melvin hasn't announced a decision yet. On MLB Network, I heard analyst Dan Plesac say the "safe call" would be to go with Colon. I don't know if there is a "safe call" in this situation. If Melvin selects Colon and the A's lose the ballgame, people are still going to ask why he didn't go with Gray. What's so safe about that? Really, the only way Melvin isn't going to get second-guessed here is if the A's win.

With that in mind, I think he should go with Gray, who is 3-1 with a 1.56 ERA while pitching at home this year. When in doubt, pick the guy who is pitching the best, regardless of experience level. Right now, Gray is that guy for Oakland.

Red Sox oust Rays

The other division series in the American League wrapped up on Tuesday as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to complete a 3-1 series victory.

Give credit to the top two hitters in the Boston batting order. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino combined to go 15 for 32 with nine runs scored and five stolen bases in the series. Victorino beat out an infield grounder with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to score Ellsbury with the eventual game-winning run on Tuesday.

Rays manager Joe Maddon burned through nine of the 11 pitchers on his playoff roster in a fruitless effort to stay alive in this series. All the mixing and matching in the world couldn't change the fact that Tampa Bay managed just one run off Boston starter Jake Peavy and nothing off three Red Sox relief pitchers.

Boston advances to the ALCS and will open at home on Saturday. The Red Sox can set their pitching rotation however they want. None of their starters were used more than once in this series against Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chris Sale vs. Max Scherzer

I've said it many times: I'm a bad American. I often don't care about things other Americans care deeply about. And no matter what ESPN says, I can't get excited about a supposedly critical early-season NFC East matchup.

Instead, my eyes were cast toward U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night as the two best pitchers in the American League this year went head-to-head.

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale struck out eight over eight innings and allowed just a solo home run to Victor Martinez and four hits to lead the South Siders to a 5-1 win over the Detroit Tigers and right-hander Max Scherzer (pictured).

Sale's strikeout of Austin Jackson to end the third inning was his 200th of the season. He became the first pitcher in Sox history to record 200 strikeouts before hitting the 200-inning plateau. Previously, Javier Vazquez was the fastest Sox pitcher to 200 Ks in one season. Vazquez recorded his 200th strikeout of the 2007 season in his 207th inning. Sale got there in just 190.2 innings.

This was not a good night for Scherzer (19-3). For the third consecutive start, he was denied in his bid for his 20th victory. He allowed five runs (four earned) and needed 90 pitches to get through four innings. By the fifth inning, he had been removed from the game.

That said, Scherzer is still going to win the Cy Young Award in the American League this year. His team is in first place, and how can you argue with a 19-3 record? He's been awesome. But if you look at the statistics as a whole, the only category Scherzer has a significant advantage over Sale in is the won-loss column. Sale is just 11-12 because, well, the White Sox stink. Sale has posted a quality start in seven of his 12 losses. If he had a real team behind him, he'd have 18 or 19 wins, too, and we'd have a neck-and-neck race for the Cy Young. Let's look at some of the other stats besides the won-loss record:

Sale's ERA is 2.90; Scherzer's is 3.01.

Sale has four complete games this season; Scherzer has none.

Sale has a shutout to his credit; Scherzer does not.

Sale has thrown 195.2 innings; Scherzer has pitched 194.1.

Scherzer has 215 strikeouts; Sale has 207.

Scherzer's WHIP is 0.962; Sale's is 1.037.

Scherzer strikes out 10.0 men for every nine innings pitched; Sale fans 9.5 for every nine innings pitched.

Sale's K/BB ratio is 5.05; Scherzer's is 4.48.

These two men have similar numbers in every category except one: wins and losses. They have both been just outstanding. Scherzer will get to show his stuff in the postseason again this October. It is too bad Sale's brilliant season has gone to waste on the 2013 White Sox.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Tigers have the Indians on the ropes

For most of this season, I've been of the mindset that the American League Central Division is a one-team race. The Detroit Tigers are the best and most complete team, and barring an unforeseen rash of injuries, they are going to the playoffs. That's just how it is.

But give the Cleveland Indians credit. They have made things interesting for longer than anyone expected. However, I think the party might be over for the Tribe following the events of this week.

Flash back to Monday: Detroit came into Cleveland to open a four-game series. The Tigers had a three-game lead in the division. Critical series? Well, not exactly. But it was an important series; important enough that it could be a huge turning point if one team or the other swept.

Well, the Tigers swept. That first game Monday night set the tone. The Indians took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. They were three outs away from trimming Detroit's division lead to two games. If closer Chris Perez could get the job done, the race would be on. Instead, Perez imploded.

He faced four batters and retired none of them. Prince Fielder doubled. Victor Martinez singled. Andy Dirks walked. Then, Alex Avila (pictured) hit a 3-run homer. Suddenly, the Tigers led 4-2, and that would be the final score. In a blink of an eye, Detroit had a four-game lead in the AL Central -- the top of the ninth inning Monday night representing a huge two-game swing.

On Tuesday, Detroit's Justin Verlander outpitched Cleveland ace Justin Masterson as the Tigers prevailed 5-1. Wednesday brought another crushing loss for the Tribe as they fell 6-5 in 14 innings. Detroit ace Max Scherzer finished off the four-game sweep on Thursday. The likely AL Cy Young winner is now 17-1 after earning a 10-3 victory.

The Tigers left Cleveland with a seven-game division lead and a 12-game winning streak intact. The New York Yankees broke Detroit's winning streak with a 4-3 win in 10 innings Friday night, but Cleveland failed to take advantage, falling 5-2 to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Entering Saturday's play, Detroit leads Cleveland by 7 games and red-hot Kansas City by 7.5 games. The Royals have won 15 of 17 and could take over second place by the end of action today. The Indians, however, look like their chances are dying. It's been a terrible week for Cleveland, and if the Tribe fails to make the playoffs, this recent series with Detroit will be the one they look back on as the one that cost them.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tigers, Mariners challenge MLB single-game strikeout record

As I was driving home from work in a torrential rainstorm Wednesday night, I was able to catch the final innings of an epic game between the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners on the radio.

The Tigers prevailed 2-1 in 14 innings. Detroit scratched across a run in the top of the 14 and held on, literally, in the bottom half of the inning. The final out of the game was recorded at home plate, with Detroit catcher Brayan Pena holding on to a relay throw and making a tag as Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak knocked him over.

I was hoping the game would be tied again -- not just because it would have helped the White Sox if Detroit had lost. The two teams were getting close to setting a new record for most combined strikeouts in a single game. Had the game continued, it would have been a chance to see (or hear) a little bit of history.

The two starting pitchers, Seattle's Felix Hernandez (pictured) and Detroit's Max Scherzer, had remarkably similar pitching lines. Both men went eight innings, allowing one run. Both struck out 12. Scherzer threw 105 pitches, 75 for strikes. Hernandez totaled 106 pitches, 76 for strikes.

When all was said and done, the two teams combined for 40 strikeouts -- 21 by Detroit batters and 19 for Seattle. That 21 figure tied team records for both teams -- most strikeouts for Tiger hitters in a single game and most strikeouts for Mariner pitchers in a single game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, forty combined strikeouts in one game ties for the second most in the Live Ball Era -- which began in 1920. For those wondering, the record is 43, set during a 20-inning game between the Oakland A's and California Angels on July 9, 1971.

Too bad this Detroit-Seattle contest didn't go to a 15th inning. There's a good chance that record would have fallen.