Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/19/12
Max Scherzer hit a bump in the sixth inning, allowing a hit and a walk. Jim Leyland pulled him for Drew Smyly. It was about the only bad thing to happen to the Tigers all day. Through the fifth inning, Scherzer was engaged in one of the most dominant starts in playoff history. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth, the only two runners coming via an error and a walk. He struck out nine of the first 18 hitters he faced. It was dominance, and had the game not been firmly in hand by the sixth we may have seen more. There was no reason to force Scherzer to throw any mildly taxing pitch and risk even the slightest heading into the World Series, and so the fireballer was removed after just 5.2 innings. The Yankees mustered just two hits and one walk overall as Scherzer finished with 10 strikeouts. Even with Curtis Granderson on the bench, the Yankees still threw seven left-handed batters (all but Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez) at Scherzer. Lefties owned a .360 wOBA against Scherzer in the regular season compared to a putrid .258 mark by right-handers. Scherzer succeeded Thursday with a constant diet of pithces low inside the strike zone. On the few occasions Scherzer let the ball leak up, it was either on the outside corner or well off the plate: Scherzer threw 71 pitches to lefties with 51 resulting in strikes. His stuff is so exceptional, especially when buried low in the strike zone, it’s difficult to make solid contact. According to Baseball Prospectus, left-handed hitters fouled the ball off at least 125% as often off Scherzer than they do the typical right-handed hurler when the ball is in the lower-third of the zone this season. So hitters were either frozen (16 called strikes), fouling (20 times) or altogether missing (nine whiffs) as Scherzer pounded his fastball-changeup combination in that brutal lower third of the zone. The constant barrage of strikes kept Scherzer in pitchers’ counts and kept the Yankees on a constant march back to the dugout. Scherzer was acquired from Arizona in the huge three-team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees largely on the basis that his pure stuff — pitches with sharp movement and plenty of velocity — would eventually translate to big-time major league success. The Tigers had to be patient — there were bumps, walks and homers along the road — but over the past four months, Scherzer has been every bit as advertised. In the playoffs, Scherzer now owns 18 strikeouts in 11 innings. He has been pitching at an ace level since June 17th, posting a 2.53 ERA bolstered by a 4.6 K/BB and 0.73 HR/9. Now, on the back of his performance in Game 4, his Tigers head to the World Series bringing in a rotation with much more to fear than just Justin Verlander.
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