Tigers rotation a force to be reckoned with

Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander is congratulated by catcher Alex Avila before leaving the...

Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander is congratulated by catcher Alex Avila before leaving the game in the ninth inning against the Yankees during Game 3 of the ALCS at Comerica Park in Detroit, Mich., Oct. 16, 2012. (JESSICA RINALDI/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:27 AM ET

DETROIT - Best starting rotation in these playoffs?

It’s hard to look past the Detroit Tigers four that has gone 30 innings between runs allowed and 40 innings between earned runs allowed.

That streak goes back to the third game of the American League Division Series versus the Oakland Athletics and includes all four of their starters.

Obviously Justin Verlander has been a huge part of that, but so have Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Between them they have accumulated a 0.80 earned-run average over 56.1 innings, with 56 strikeouts. They have limited their opponents to a .168 batting average.

Tuesday, the Tigers pitching staff as a whole came within one inning of doing something to the New York Yankees that has never happened to the Bronx Bombers in 51 years of playoff baseball: back-to-back shutouts.

NEW LOOK, SAME STORY

Nobody was more surprised than Joe Girardi that the New York Yankees lineup didn’t include Alex Rodriguez or Nick Swisher on Tuesday.

“You would think that, with the resumes these guys have and the type of play they put up during the course of seasons, that you would have a pretty set lineup,” said the Yankees manager with an astonished shake of his head. “With a set lineup, there’s really not a lot of discussion or a lot of thought process.”

He wasn’t just talking about A-Rod and Swisher. They’re the fall guys for a Yankees lineup that has gone 15-for-78 (.192) at the plate in the first two games of the American League Championship Series and 53-for-258 (.205) through all seven playoff games leading up to Tuesday’s contest. Had he enough replacements, Girardi could have benched Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Eric Chavez as well.

Rodriguez is 3-for-23 and Swisher is 4-for-26. Between them, they have fanned 20 times in 49 at-bats. Cano and Granderson went into Tuesday’s Game 3 against the Detroit Tigers hitting a combined 5-for-58 with 18 strikeouts, but they were batting No. 4 and No. 8, respectively.

It’s hard to say that Girardi’s moves Tuesday had much of an impact. Going into the ninth inning, the only two hits against Verlander were a pair of singles by Ichiro Suzuki. Brett Gardner went 0-for-4, though Nunez did hit that ninth-inning home run that broke the goose-egg.

Cano did hit a ninth-inning single to snap his 0-for-29 slump.

“What has happened has happened,” said Girardi. “We have to find a way to score runs. We have our ace on the mound (Wednesday). Win a game tomorrow and then see what happens.”

Down the stretch and into the playoffs, Girardi has refused to play Gardner because he has not had much of a chance to face live pitching, having missed most of the season.

“Some guys are struggling or it wouldn’t have been a consideration,” said Girardi.

In choosing the hitless Chavez (0-for-11 in the playoffs) to play third base, Girardi may be further driving a wedge between himself and Rodriguez. It certainly makes a statement about how far out of favour A-Rod is at the present time, considering he is 8-for-30 lifetime against Verlander with three home runs and a 1.005 on-base plus slugging.

“Part of it is his struggles against right-handers in the playoffs,” said Girardi.

Chavez went 0-for-3 and made an error in the field.

YOUNG SLUGGER

The Tigers have been to the World Series 10 times and, in the playoff era that began in 1969, have been in the post-season four other times. They have had sluggers like Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Sam Crawford, Norm Cash, Kirk Gibson and, now, Miguel Cabrera.

But who holds the record for most Tigers post-season home runs? That would be Delmon Young, who hit five home runs during last year’s run, added a sixth in Game 1 of this ALCS and stroked No. 7 Tuesday night in the fourth inning. Young began this post-season tied with Greenberg, who hit five homers in 23 World Series games from 1934 to 1945.

“I have no clue about that,” said Young, who has only 15 post-season hits, total. “Just trying to have good at-bats and win ballgames. It’s my fourth post-season (two with Minnesota and two with Detroit). So I have a lot of games under my belt.”

A BULLPEN BUFFET

Jim Leyland is not a fan of bullpen-by-committee but that’s what he’s into right now with Valverde in limbo because of the closer’s poor performance.

“There have been times during my career that I had to mix-and-match and go by committee,” said the Tiger manager Tuesday. “It’s kind of a second-guesser’s smorgasbord, really, because when you pick this one, ‘you should have picked that one and why did you pick this one and why didn’t you pick that one?’

“The reason I love a closer who is a definite closer and a good one, like Valverde has been and Mariano Rivera has been, is because it takes a lot of pressure off the manager.”

Once again Tuesday, Leyland rolled the dice with Phil Coke and the lefty bent, but didn’t break. After Verlander had given up a ninth-inning leadoff homer to Nunez, Coke came in and got Ichiro on a groundout, then gave up back-to-back singles to Teixeira and Cano. With the sellout crowd on the edge of their seats, Coke fanned Raul Ibanez on a breaking ball to end it.

DISCOUNTING THE COUNT

Jack Morris was a bulldog as a starting pitcher and he was asked what he thought of Justin Verlander’s complete-game tour-de-force against the Oakland Athletics in the AL Division Series clincher.

“I think everyone in the Washington Nationals front office should pay attention that guys should go deep into games,” he said, referencing the Nationals’ shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.

“I believe the pitch count is overrated. There is value in starting pitching going deep into games to help save the bullpen.”

Morris routinely threw 120 pitches a game in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Lots of guys did,” he said. “We weren’t freaks. I know guys can still do it.”


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