On July 31, 2014, the Detroit Tigers acquired David Price in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. For the final two months of the season, the team had one of the more illustrious starting rotations in recent memory.
Price, who had won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012, joined a rotation that already featured Justin Verlander (the 2011 AL Cy Young winner), and Max Scherzer (the 2013 AL Cy Young winner). According to STATS LLC, this was the first time that a team had three pitchers on its staff that had all won Cy Young Awards the previous three seasons. With Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello rounding out the rotation, the Tigers were the envy of the baseball world.
Here’s a look at a few of the more memorable starting rotations in the history of Detroit Tiger baseball:
1907: The Tigers had excellent pitching when they went to the World Series three straight years from 1907-09 (losing every time). The summer of 1907 saw Detroit’s first great starting rotation. Even in the Deadball Era, their numbers look very good. It’s hard to pick an ace among left-handers “Twilight Ed” Killian (25-13 1.78 ERA) and Ed Siever (18-11, 2.16 ERA), and righties “Wild Bill” Donovan (25-4 2.19 ERA) and “Wabash George” Mullin (20-20 with a 2.59 ERA and 35 complete games).
1934-1935: In an era of league-wide high octane offense, the Tigers had one of the better starting groups in baseball. It was no coincidence that they went to the World Series both years (for the first time since the 1907-08-09 teams). The big four in ’34 were all right-handed: Tommy Bridges (22-11), Schoolboy Rowe (24-8), Elden Auker (15-7) and Firpo Marberry (15-5). The following season, the Tigers finally won their first World Series on the strength of Bridges, Rowe, Auker, and General Crowder, who won a combined 74 games.
1946: Hal Newhouser (26-9, 1.94), Dizzy Trout (17-13, 2.34), Virgil Trucks (14-9, 3.23), Fred Hutchinson (14-11, 3.09) and swingman Al Benton (11-7) led the Tigers to 92 wins and a second-place finish. But it wasn’t much of a race; the Boston Red Sox won 104 games to leave everyone else in the dust.
1968: Denny McLain grabbed the headlines all summer in his quest for 30 wins, but Mickey Lolich also had a fine season at 17-9, and lefty Earl Wilson won 13 games with a 2.85 ERA. There was a drop-off in talent after that. But throw in a solid Joe Sparma, and reliable swingmen Pat Dobson and John Hiller (who started 12 games that year), and you have a rotation that was good enough to lead Detroit to the World Series. Maybe not a truly great starting staff, but it’s hard not to include it in this list.
1984: With only one big name in Jack Morris, the strength of the ’84 rotation was its depth rather than its star power. Morris won 19, while Dan Petry (18) and Milt Wilcox (17) had career years. The solid if unspectacular Juan Berenguer and Dave Rozema rounded out the rotation. Not particularly sexy, but it got the job done.
2006: The rotation that brought the Detroit Tigers out of the dark ages. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman were the young studs, but 41-year-old Kenny Rogers was the elder statesman, contributing 17 wins and serving almost as a second pitching coach. Nate Robertson even won 13 (and lost 13).
2013: This team won 93 games and their third consecutive division title and outside of MVP Miguel Cabrera, their biggest strength was their five-man rotation. Max Scherzer won the Cy Young at 21-3 and Anibal Sanchez led the league in ERA with a mark of 2.57. But the greatness was in their depth: for the first time in franchise history the Tigers had five starters who won at least 13 games. Verlander and Rick Porcello won 13 apiece, while Doug Fister and Sanchez each won 14. Three starters (Scherzer, JV, and Sanchez) topped 200 strikeouts, also a team first. In fact, the Detroit pitching staff, led by their starting five, set a new MLB record for K’s with 1,428.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Tigers had their greatest success when they had starting staffs that, if not great, were at least very good. The 2014 staff may have been the best of them all. That’s what makes the team’s early exit in the postseason so hard to swallow.
Such a great pitching staff only comes along once in a lifetime. It was an opportunity lost.