Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/28/13
I was recently asked on Jack Ebling’s radio show a hypothetical that if the Detroit Tigers had already burned Max Scherzer and needed a starter for a playoff game 7; who should Jim Leyland use? I instantly answered “Sanchez”, as in Detroit’s clear cut #2, Anibal Sanchez. Both Jack and his co-host were surprised that I didn’t answer Justin Verlander, despite his struggles of late, which continued by way of an Oakland A’s ambush on Tuesday night. Justin Verlander is searching for answers The loss dropped JV’s record to 12-10 and nudged his wayward ERA up to 3.73. Things haven’t improved a whole lot of late as his August ERA wrapped up with a very un-MVP-like 4.11. His current WHIP of 1.36 would be the 2nd highest of his career if it holds up, his highest since 2008. Verlander’s 65 walks are already more than he had in both 2011 (57) and 2012 (60), respectively, and he has a month to go. Verlander’s 10 losses mark just the 2nd time he has lost double digit games in a season in his career. He lost 17 in that troubling 2008 campaign. For those that get their kicks looking at stats like WAR (wins above replacement), Verlander is at 2.8 this year after posting WAR’s of 8.3 and 7.5 the past two years. It could certainly be a challenge for Leyland, despite all of the evidence just presented, that someone other than JV should take the ball in such a situation as outlined above. On that same radio show I also said that I’d go to war with Verlander in the playoffs any day. I still believe that. But if I could choose, I’d rather enter battle with Scherzer or Sanchez. History and trophy cases suggest that Verlander is the guy that Detroit should go with. Real time facts and analysis make it obvious that Sanchez is the wiser choice. GM Dave Dombrowski seemingly nabbed Sanchez at the perfect time, right as he was entering his prime. And imagine the panic now if he hadn’t. The 29-year old is putting up a career year with his 2.61 ERA (which leads the team’s starters by the way, Max included), 1.15 WHIP and a stellar 158:44 K to walk ratio. Furthermore, Sanchez was brilliant in the playoffs last year posting a 1.77 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over three starts. Despite a strong postseason in 2012, Verlander’s career playoff ERA is just 4.22 and his WHIP rests at 1.24. He pitched big in October last year with the exception of Game 1 of the World Series. In Anibal Sanchez we trust Winning in October isn’t always about conventional wisdom though. It’s about riding the hot hand. New playoff heroes are born every postseason and Sanchez could certainly etch his name into the impressive annals of Tigers history with a huge postseason run this fall. Should Leyland be presented with such a dilemma, it will be his burden to not go with what feels comfortable and simply go with the correct choice. The funny (scary?) part about Jack’s question to me on his show was that if Leyland has his druthers he will probably set his playoff rotation up like this in a 7-game set: Scherzer, Sanchez, Verlander, Doug Fister, Scherzer, Sanchez, Verlander. That puts you-know-who front and center for all the marbles in a potential Game 7. For those wondering why he wouldn’t take Fister out of the mix and let Scherzer go three times – forget about it. Leyland wouldn’t do it last year with JV and he won’t change his philosophy this time around either. So the guy who left spring training as not only the face of the Tigers, but also Major League Baseball as a whole, better get things sorted out. Analysts have spent hours of air time and intense research trying to figure out what ails the power righty. I’ve heard everything from tempo, to release points, to a tired arm, to it being a simple matter of a lack of confidence. To me, everything is just a little bit worse. His fastball is less explosive. His curveball is more curvy than bitey. His control is noticeably deficient. And yes, his confidence has taken a few body blows. Is five weeks enough time to right the ship? The fact that he’s been working on it for 5 months now makes one wonder. To receive an email each time a new Tigers article is published, fill out the Email Notification Form [Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]
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