Oct 10, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning in game five of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game at O.co Coliseum. The Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland Athletics 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

A postseason ode to Justin Verlander

Let’s all stop and take a few minutes to really appreciate Justin Verlander. It’s hard to say that he hasn’t gotten the credit he’s deserved for his career to this point, because everyone knows he’s one of the best. He’s a household name, been the cover athlete for video games, and dated Kate Upton. People know him.

But after teammate Max Scherzer overshadowed him throughout the 2013 season with his gaudy win total (Scherzer actually did have an incredible season. I just wish we could acknowledge it without harping on his essentially meaningless team-dependent number of wins.), we shouldn’t let that keep us from admiring Verlander’s career as a whole.

It’s almost as if last night’s deciding Game 5 was a statement by Verlander, of the “by the way, I’m still here, dominating” ilk. Of course, that’s ridiculous from a literal perspective, as Verlander was undoubtedly ecstatic to not have to carry the Tigers’ pitching staff all season like he has throughout his career, and I’m sure as a person/teammate/friend he was happy for Scherzer as well.

But an outing like last night’s (8 innings, 2 hits, 1 walk, and 10 strikeouts) cannot easily be forgotten. It’s a reminder that he’s still the dominate force, and outside of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, he’s The Force to be reckoned with in the 2013 postseason. The Red Sox will have to beat him, probably twice, to get to the World Series. (Let’s also take a brief moment to consider just how amazing a potential Verlander-Kershaw match-up in Game 1 and a Scherzer-Greinke match-up in Game 2 would be….)

And while the Game 5 victory over the Athletics needs to be appreciated and talked about in the proper light and given time to breathe, this is the rare case in which we shouldn’t be surprised. We should step back and take in everything that he’s done over the course of his career. In fact, don’t even let his Game 5 performance overshadow his Game 2 performance against those same A’s.

Just five days prior, Verlander through 7 shutout innings, with just 4 hits and 1 walk allowed to go along with 11 strikeouts. His line for his two starts in the ALDS against Oakland? 15 innings, 6 hits, 2 walks, and 21 strikouts. That’s an ace.

Since the 2009 season, Verlander has been the most consistently great pitcher in all of baseball, posting a 3.05 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP over 1172 innings pitched. This year’s FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) and xFIP (Expected Fielder Independent Pitching) numbers were his highest since 2008, coming in at 3.28 and 3.67, respectively. Not that those numbers are anything to sneeze at. They’re absolutely not, but it demonstrates just how ridiculous he’s been.

He had had not posted a FIP above a 2.99 since 2008. This is crazy stuff. And in the playoffs? His poor showing in Game 1 of the World Series against San Francisco last year overshadowed what had been a historical postseason to that point in 2012 for Verlander. Through the ALDS and ALCS, the Tigers’ ace dominated the A’s (twice) and the Yankees (once) to the tune of just 2 runs on 10 hits scored over 24 1/3 innings. Clearly, the MLB’s best pitcher in 2012 navigated his club to the Series, and after scuffling in Game 1, he never got the chance to atone for his rough outing later, as the Tigers were swept in four games.

Appreciate Justin Verlander. For his Game 5 performance last night, in a vacuum and in context. Let’s appreciate his cumulative performance over the past 5+ seasons and postseasons. Let’s appreciate the fact that in the shadow of the incredible 2013 version of Max Scherzer, Verlander continued pitching like an ace, and has elevated his game thus far in the playoffs.

And so it comes down to this. The ALCS versus the Boston Red Sox and their mighty offensive attack. The Tigers’ one-two punch of Verlander and Scherzer will have the opportunity to carry their club. If Scherzer can pitch like he did most of the season and Verlander can be, well, Verlander, this thing will be a whole lot of fun.

Tags: Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander Max Scherzer MLB Oakland Athletics

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