Who should start Opening Day for the Tigers?
Having the option of going with either to kick off the regular season is a luxury that many big league managers would love to have.
In fact, the one-two punch of Scherzer and JV is a large reason why new Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus has been dealt a great hand in his first year as a big league manager.
If Ausmus gives the ball to Scherzer on March 31st against the division rival Kansas City Royals, Ausmus will have effectively broken tradition by ending Verlander’s Opening Day start streak of six years – good for second best in franchise history. Ranking ahead of JV with more consecutive Opening Day starts is former Tigers ace Jack Morris, who had an 11-season run from 1980-90.
Now, the question that exists is whether or not a change of the guard should ultimately be implemented by Ausmus.
I know all about Scherzer’s accomplishments last season – leading the entire league in wins with 21, recording the best win percentage in all of baseball, and leading the league in walks and hits per innings pitched. However, my answer is “no,” and I firmly give “no” as my answer due to the fact that JV was absolutely lights out in the 2013 postseason.
Verlander simply could not be touched in the ALDS against the Oakland A’s, and he showed up in the biggest of moments. This includes the winner-take-all game five, which is when the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP award winner shut out the A’s over eight innings of two-hit baseball.
Although Verlander didn’t throw a shutout in his final start of the 2013 postseason – which came against the Boston Red Sox in game three of the ALCS, he still managed to limit Red Sox bats to four hits and only one run in eight innings of work.
JV’s swan song performance – one of his three 10 strikeout outings in the 2013 playoffs – left him with an ERA under half a run.
Scherzer’s performance in October wasn’t too shabby either. However, it wasn’t up to the caliber of Verlander.
Scherzer followed up a dominant 2013 regular season campaign with ace-worthy numbers in both the ALDS against Oakland and in the ALCS against the BoSox.
After getting the ball for game one of the postseason against the aforementioned A’s and recording a masterful, 11 strikeout performance, he came through with a clutch performance out of the bullpen in game four and forced a game five in Oakland.
After another dominant, 10 K-plus performance against David Ortiz and the BoSox in game two of the ALCS, he came down to earth and became human again – much to the dismay of many Tigers fans – by allowing three runs and walking five batters in only six and a third innings of work in the final game of Detroit’s 2013 campaign.
Scherzer finished with an impressive 2.82 ERA for his work in October. It marked the end to his first full season as a legitimate, go-to-option at the top of the Tigers rotation.
Saying all this, I full-heartedly believe that Verlander reclaimed the role of staff ace due to his incredibly noteworthy and nearly perfect work in October.
After word spread just three weeks ago that Verlander might not be ready in time for the start of 2014 due to undergoing core muscle surgery this offseason, he is perceived to be healthy and ready to go for the start of the season after throwing a pain-free 41-pitch bullpen session on Saturday plus a successful 54-pitch session on Tuesday in Lakeland, Fla. (site of Tigers spring camp).
Barring any setbacks, I think the highly productive outings made by Verlander last October and his continued progress in recovering from core muscle surgery provide Ausmus with all the reasoning he needs to hand JV the ball for a seventh straight Opening Day.
Follow OPSN contributor Vito Chirco on Twitter for more MLB updates @VitoJerome.