It has been a long time since the Tigers had a real ace at the top of their pitching rotation. Seemingly not since the days that Jack Morris stared in towards the plate, has there been someone that has proven that they will give a solid performance every time that they take the mound. While a series of emotional starters have temporarily filled that role, none have had the raw talent or the stats to back them up like Justin Verlander. Justin’s quite a special pitcher, and he has essentially put the Tigers on his back to win the AL Central crown.
Justin Verlander’s performance on Thursday night was considered a quality start by MLB standards, but subpar by Verlander’s personal standards. Roughly six years ago in Cleveland, Verlander’s voyage in Major League Baseball began, and last night’s performance continued to solidify number 35 as a perennial star and the team’s true pitching ace. In fact, it seems like his latest performance was the fourth or fifth straight start where Verlander had the role of turning the momentum back in the favor of the Tigers. This team was looking like they didn’t want to hold on to the division lead, and Verlander used nearly 110 pitches to will his team back into the win column.
Of course, last night’s performance (and result) would not have taken place if not for a conveniently placed day off and a timely decision by Jim Leyland. While it would have been special to have had Verlander pitch in front of his family and friends in Baltimore, this ugly series with the Indians almost became a 3-game momentum swing back in favor of the Indians. In a division where no team has great pitching or hitting depth, every game makes the difference between spending October playing baseball or planning for your team’s future.
Back to Verlander though, he’s got 100 career wins to his name in just under six seasons. To place things in perspective, he’s 20 wins away (likely mid-next season) from passing Jim Bunning, Denny McLain, Virgil Trucks and Dan Petry on the all-time wins list. His 17 wins on the season are also continuous proof that the 2008 season was truly a fluke. If JV continues having one impressive pitching performance after another, he could single-handedly drive the Tigers into the postseason.