The choice of Max Scherzer to start the AL Division Series opener was an easy one, Brad Ausmus acknowledged Tuesday. His choice to start Game 2 was a little tougher.
Brad Ausmus cited several secondary reasons why he opted for Justin Verlander over David Price. He did not cite a primary reason.
“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. Pitch Verlander [in] Game 3, now you’re really stretching him out; he hadn’t pitched in a while. You could slice this up a lot of different ways.”
Asked if Game 5 was a reason, Ausmus said, “That was part of the thought process, but Max would be available for game five as well. So that decision will come later.”
For the year, Price has been a better pitcher on the road, but pitched two gems at Comerica Park over the final week, save for a bad ninth inning against the White Sox. Verlander is statistically a better pitcher at home, but shut down Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium in that clutch series a week and a half back.
If Scherzer is the guy to start Game 5, then this debate is kind of irrelevant, more of a home-road split kind of thing (Price has a 2.92 ERA on the road this year). Neither pitcher has lost at Camden Yards. Verlander has a lower batting average allowed there, while Price has pretty much the same rate of keeping the ball in the park (4 HR in 50 innings, compared with 5 HR in 57 innings for Verlander).
But then, Scherzer was in line to start Game of last year’s ALDS … until he pitched in relief in Game 4.
One difference this year, at least from the Scherzer-as-reliever standpoint, is the presence of Anibal Sanchez in the bullpen. But if there’s an extra-inning game somewhere along the line, or a rain delay, or another reason for an early exit, it’s going to be an interesting decision.
Major League Baseball investigated last week’s flare-up between White Sox ace Chris Sale and Victor Martinez, as well as the issues surrounding it, but decided against any fines or suspensions.
“We looked at all the factors, and we did not find a reason for disciplinary action,” an MLB spokesperson said Tuesday.
All on-field incidents get some level of review, including a report from the umpires involved. This one was more interesting for multiple reasons, not just the potential implications of a playoff race if Martinez had been injured by Sale’s pitch, but also what prompted Sale to hit Martinez.
Sale said after the game he tried to pitch inside and simply lost a pitch. However, his mannerisms from the mound and the dugout, and the feedback Martinez heard from ex-teammate Avisail Garcia, made it clear Sale suspected Martinez had somebody in the outfield stealing signs or pitch locations. The Tigers and Martinez scoffed at the idea.
“Victor, I think he’s hitting 20 points higher on the road, so apparently he’s got a small army of people with binoculars,” Ausmus said the next day. “I thought the whole thing was kind of ridiculous.”
From a league standpoint, the matter is closed. Whether the two teams — or more importantly, the two players — do the same won’t likely be clear until next season. The White Sox return to Comerica Park April 17-19, but Martinez is a free agent this coming offseason and stands to be one of the hottest hitters on the market. Considering he’s mainly a DH at this point in his career, he’s likely to remain in the American League. Suffice to say, any speculation of a free-agent courtship by the White Sox is now dead.
Victor Martinez spent the season supporting Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup, but he’s going to have a chance to follow Cabrera finally getting a chance at some hitting awards of his own. Detroit’s designated hitter, who led the American League in OPS while finishing second in the batting race, has been nominated for Major League Baseball’s Hank Aaron Award, presented to the best offensive performer in each league.
Martinez was the Tigers’ nominee over Miguel Cabrera, who won the last two Hank Aaron Awards for the American League. On many other teams, Cabrera would’ve had a chance to defend his title. The way Martinez hit, however, simply overshadowed him.
Not only did Martinez set career highs at age 35, he put up the kind of numbers seen from a rare group of hitters his age, batting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs. He came the third-oldest player ever to post his first career 30-homer, 100-RBI season, trailing only Carlton Fisk and Edgar Martinez.
Add in 70 walks and 33 doubles, and Martinez’s .974 OPS beat out White Sox rookie slugger Jose Abreu for the Major League lead. Martinez nearly capped his season with a batting title, taking the race into the final weekend before losing out to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.
The discipline from Martinez was eye-opening. He had more than twice as many two-strike hits (93) as strikeouts (42), batting .337 in those situations with 14 home runs. He had almost as many hits (eight) as strikeouts (nine) in 0-2 counts.
The stats suggest a winning case. To earn the award, however, Martinez will have to win the vote of fans and a panel of Hall of Fame hitters. Fans can vote for an AL and NL winner at MLB.com from now until Oct. 5. In addition, Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount will take part in the process.
The two winners will be announced during the World Series. The award, established in 1999, will also recognize Aaron’s accomplishments in breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record 40 years ago.
The schedule is out for the first three games of the Division Series, and it’s heavy on day baseball. Between the postseason presence of two teams in the Baltimore-Washington area, and the desire to accommodate West Coast fans with later start times, the one series guaranteed to have two teams in the Eastern time zone is getting the early starts.
It won’t be the case for the series opener, though Game 1 on Thursday could start before 6pm depending on whom the Angels face in the other ALDS. It will be the case for the other two games.
Game 2 on Friday could be a noon start if the Nationals are facing the Giants. It’ll be a 3pm start if the Pirates are facing the Nationals. Either way, it’s a baseball doubleheader for fans in the Beltway.
Detroit, too, is getting a doubleheader of the football-baseball kind. Game 3 Sunday at Comerica Park is scheduled for a 3:45pm start, right around the time the Lions and Bills are likely headed towards the two-minute warning across the street at Ford Field. It’ll be the reverse version of the doubleheader the two teams had downtown a few weeks ago, only without the weekday work traffic. With two stadiums’ worth of fans heading downtown, plan accordingly for traffic and parking hassles.
Tickets, by the way, are still available for Games 3 and 4, if Sunday’s schedule frees you up to go (say, without having to sacrifice sleep ahead of your work day Monday). You can pick up tickets online at tigers.com, by phone at 866-66-TIGER or in person at the Comerica Park box office.
Here’s the schedule:
Thursday: Game 1, Camden Yards — 5:37pm (if Royals win AL Wild Card) or 6:07pm (if A’s win Wild Card)
Friday: Game 2, Camden Yards — 12:07pm (if Giants win NL Wild Card) or 3:07pm ET (if Pirates win NL Wild Card)
Sunday: Game 3, Comerica Park — 3:45pm
Monday: Game 4 (if necesary), Comerica Park — TBD
Wednesday, Oct. 8: Game 5 (if necessary), Camden Yards — TBD
Also announced was the umpiring crew for the series. Jeff Kellogg will be the crew chief. Joining him will be Scott Barry, Dan Bellino, Fieldin Culbreth, Paul Schrieber and Jim Wolf. Replay officials stationed in NY for the various Division Series will be CB Bucknor, Chris Conroy, Ed Hickox and Brian O’Nora.
Down the hallway from the celebration in the Tigers clubhouse, Alex Avila was talking with a scrum of reporters about the Tigers’ journey to their latest AL Central crown when Ian Kinsler crashed the interview with a bottle of champagne, telling Avila to open his eyes as he poured it over his head.
“Feel the burn,” Kinsler said.
The Tigers have celebrated a lot over the past few years, but they haven’t celebrated much at home. They hadn’t celebrated a division title at home since 1987. They made up for it with a playoff series clincher two years ago, and in 2006, but it’s been a while.
So as the Tigers celebrated, they were making up for lost time. They were also recognizing the struggle to make sure this wasn’t a lost season. It wasn’t a crazy celebration, but it was still a notable one.
“There’s not too many storybook seasons in this game,” Ian Kinsler said. “Baseball’s a game of adversity, and we faced a ton of it this year. There were lots of ups and downs. I remember early in May, our bullpen was shot. I mean, Brad didn’t really have a guy to go to. We were running guys in and out from Triple-A, just trying to fight through that long stretch that we had at the beginning of the season. You just remember a bunch of little things that happened that you try to overcome. It always tastes better when it’s hard-fought, for sure.”
Said Victor Martinez: “These four years, it’s been incredible to win. I understand that the fans were frustrated, but there was nobody more frustrated than ourselves, because we don’t want to go out there and strike out with a man on base. The pitcher doesn’t want to give up a run. We know what kind of talent we have here. We really were frustrated, and you know what, I’m really proud of this group today. We stayed together and here we are.”
More reactions …
Alex Avila: “I think everybody expects us every year to just run the table. We expect a lot out of ourselves as well. We had to make up for some bad play early on. We played really well for a long stretch, and then we played pretty poorly for a long stretch. You’re not going to make that up in a week. A lot of times in this game, patience is a virtue.”
Torii Hunter: “Look at Kansas City this year. Everybody said they were going to win the division, and they actually lived up to that. They played well, one game away from winning the division. This division is getting better every year. To win four in a row is tough.”
Dave Dombrowski: “There’s been some struggles at times, but people forget that other years have had struggles too. I was telling guys, ‘Don’t forget, in 2006, we thought we were going to win the division.’ Now, the wild card was different then, but we lost and ended up with the wild card. In 2009, when we went to Game 163, we were in a position where if we would’ve a couple more games won at the end, we would’ve been in. There are three clubs in the American League that won 90 games this year, and yesterday there were six scenarios where somebody could clinch something, and five of them lost. It’s hard. I don’t think people realize how hard it is. There’s a lot of good clubs out there.”
Brad Ausmus: “We were kind of envisioning this type of celebration for a few days now. Kansas City has played extremely well this last week, and really pushed us to the limit. We’re at the last game of the season. I think ultimately, the guys we have — they’ve been through this — didn’t panic, weren’t stressing. If you were in here earlier, there was music playing. Happy-go-lucky, but really with an underlying confidence, because of the experience that’s here, in terms of personnel.”
No surprise, but Rajai Davis is not in the lineup today. Ezequiel Carrera’s start may or may not be surprising. It’s just his second start since Sept. 1, and Don Kelly started three times in center field since then. However, Kelly hasn’t started since Sept. 16, and his hit last night ended an 0-for-11 slump.
Also, for what it’s worth, Ausmus said he considers Carrera to be the best defensive center fielder of the group with Davis out. That said, it could be worth watching how well Carrera reads fly balls with the sun out for the day game, a setting which gave Davis trouble on a ball earlier this week and gave Austin Jackson and Curtis Granderson problems for years.
Meanwhile, Victor Martinez has a division race and a batting race going down to the final day. AL batting leader Jose Altuve (.340) isn’t playing today, which leaves Martinez (.337) with a chance to catch a standing target and earn the Tigers their fourth straight batting title. That said, it’s going to take a stellar day.
Altuve is at .33993902. If Martinez goes 3-for-3, he’ll pass Altuve at .34046346. If Martinez goes 3-for-4, however, he’ll finish just shy at .33985765. A 4-for-5 day would put Martinez at .341.
TIGERS (career numbers against Gibson)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-10, walk, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-7, walk)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-8, double, HR, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-9, double, 2 walks)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-8, double, walk, 2 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-7, double, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-9, walk, 3 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-5, walk, K)
- Ezequiel Carrera, CF
P: David Price
TWINS (career numbers off Price)
- Danny Santana, SS (2-for-8, double, triple, 5 K’s)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (4-for-15, double, 2 HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Joe Mauer, 1B (3-for-20, double, 4 walks, 6 K’s)
- Kennys Vargas, DH (1-for-3, K)
- Josmil Pinto, C (1-for-5, 2 walks)
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B (3-for-5, double)
- Chris Herrmann, LF
- Aaron Hicks, CF (2-for-5, double, walk, K)
P: Kyle Gibson
The Tigers will try to get better at-bats off Ricky Nolasco tonight than they did a week and a half ago in Minneapolis. To that end, Brad Ausmus switched up a couple of spots in the lineup. Nick Castellanos, who did not start against Nolasco last time, starts in the rematch. Alex Avila, who was out for that series last week, is behind the plate. Andrew Romine, who had some rough at-bats against Nolasco last week, starts again for defense behind Kyle Lobstein.
TIGERS (career numbers off Nolasco)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-9, 3 doubles, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-6, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-6, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-5, double, walk)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-8, walk, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-2, double)
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-2, walk)
- Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, 3 K’s)
- Rajai Davis, CF (1-for-6, double)
P: Kyle Lobstein
- Danny Santana, SS
- Brian Dozier, 2B
- Joe Mauer, 1B
- Kennys Vargas, DH
- Josmil Pinto, C
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B
- Chris Herrmann, LF
- Aaron Hicks, CF
P: Ricky Nolasco
There are many instances of pitchers having personal catchers. Rick Porcello has a personal shortstop. If he’s on the mound inducing ground balls, Andrew Romine is going to be at shortstop trying to convert them into outs. The offensive matchup is secondary — though with spot starter Anthony Swarzak, I’m not sure how much matching up there is to do.
TIGERS (career numbers off Swarzak)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (7-for-19, double, HR, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-18, double, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (8-for-22, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-17, 2 doubles, walk, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (4-for-4, double, walk)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-7, 4 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (3-for-14, 2 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-6, K)
- Rajai Davis, CF (5-for-11)
P: Rick Porcello
TWINS (career numbers vs. Porcello)
- Danny Santana, SS (2-for-8, double, K)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (5-for-21, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Joe Mauer, 1B (11-for-43, 4 doubles, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
- Kennys Vargas, DH (3-for-3, triple, HR)
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF (1-for-4, double, walk, K)
- Kurt Suzuki, C (5-for-21, 2 doubles, 4 walks)
- Chris Herrmann, LF (1-for-2)
- Aaron Hicks, CF (1-for-7, walk, 3 K’s)
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B (3-for-8, double)
P: Anthony Swarzak
There are scenarios for the Tigers in which last night’s outing could go down as Max Scherzer’s last start at Comerica Park as a Tiger. If Scherzer ends up opening for the Tigers in a Division Series, he’d pitch Game 1 and a potential Game 5, both on the road. If the Tigers didn’t advance, he’d then go into free agency. There’s another scenario in which the Tigers need Scherzer to save them from collapse in the Wild Card game.
“These starts matter,” Scherzer said after he turned a night of command struggles and a high pitch count into six innings of two-run ball. “Where I’m at now and executing pitches, it matters, and now I need to fine-tune more, because every pitch in the playoffs is crucial. It’s so huge, and so obviously we’re in [the playoffs] in some capacity, 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.”
Either way, the regular-season portion of his Follow-Up Season is over. And after he ended it with his 18th win of this year, and his 39th win over the last two seasons, he was good with what he posted.
He said in the spring that he could pitch better than last year and not have the same results. He wasn’t far off statistically. From a pure pitching standpoint, he feels like he’s better.
“I really do, because I feel like I’m executing pitches at a higher level than I was, say, last year,” Scherzer said. “Last year I was very consistent, and that’s something that’s so hard to strive for. In my eyes I wasn’t quite as consistent this year as I was last year. I had a few more ups and downs this year. But overall, I still did a heckuva job this year. In some ways I pitched from a numbers perspective pretty much the same. But from a pitching standpoint, I’m able to execute pitches at a higher level. I have a much more consistent curveball, and that allows me to really pitch with four pitches.
“As I keep going, that’s what you strive for, is to always find ways to keep getting better and execute pitches in new ways, because you know the rest of the league’s keying on you to try to figure you out and try to figure out ways to get hits off you. You have to come up with ways to keep getting better, and that’s what I’m proud of. Even after an unbelievable year last year, I still found a way to get better this year.”
He’s said it before many times, and he said it again Thursday, that you either get better or worse, and it’s impossible to stay the same pitcher.
“For me,” Scherzer said, “I can look back on 2014 — at least in the regular season now — and say, ‘OK, maybe I didn’t have quite the numbers as I was able to put up last year, but some things I did do better at this year. But overall, I feel like I’m a better pitcher than I was in 2013.”
Here’s a comparison of the main stats:
Take away the inconsistencies from one start to the next, and the season numbers look similar. There’s an uptick in strikeouts, but also in walks, resulting in a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio (a huge stat for Scherzer, who has a profound appreciation for what Phil Hughes did with his record ratio).
And here’s a look at some of the ratios:
The percentage of plate appearances ending in a strikeout actually went down, even though the strikeouts per nine innings went up. Likewise, though the percentage of plate appearances ending in an extra-base hit went up, extra-base hits comprised a smaller percentage of his hit total.
The most interesting thing for me in the bunch, though, might be the uptick in his ground-ball rate. He’s still a flyball pitcher, but he has able to get more grounders when he needed them, resulting in five more double plays than he had last season. Given his work on becoming more of a four-pitch pitcher, it would not be a surprise if this trend continues, no matter what team he ends up pitching for next year.
Finally, an analysis on his strike percentages and strikeouts:
He was ever so slightly more efficient than last year, and he threw an incrementally higher percentage of strikes. However, hitters seemed more aggressive, taking fewer strikes and swinging more, evidenced more in the percentage of pitches fouled off.
Aside from Alex Avila catching, the Tigers have the same lineup that they had when they faced Trevor May a month ago at Target Field. He gave up five runs on 11 hits that day. Everyone but Rajai Davis ended up with a base hit that day.
The Twins get Joe Mauer back after he left Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks with a bruised elbow from a hit-by-pitch. He missed Wednesday’s game, but will take his cuts against Max Scherzer.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Eugenio Suarez, SS
- Rajai Davis, CF
P: Max Scherzer
TWINS (career numbers against Scherzer)
- Danny Santana, SS (4-for-9, 2 doubles, K)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (2-for-15, HR, 3 walks, 7 K’s)
- Joe Mauer, 1B (9-for-34, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Kennys Vargas, DH (3-for-6, K)
- Oswaldo Arcia, RF (3-for-9, double, HR, 5 K’s)
- Kurt Suzuki, C (4-for-10, HR, walk, K)
- Chris Herrmann, LF (0-for-2, walk, K)
- Aaron Hicks, CF (0-for-7, walk, 4 K’s)
- Eduardo Escobar, 3B (2-for-10, double, 2 K’s)
P: Trevor May