Justin Verlander Aims for 20th Win Today

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The Detroit Tigers start the day with a 6.5 game lead in the American League Central, as winners of seven of their last eight games, and with the league’s best pitcher on the mound. Life is good these days if you’re a Tigers fan.

Justin Verlander has been a very good pitcher ever since he first cracked the starting rotation for the Tigers in Spring Training of 2006. Since that season, no America League pitcher has won more than Verlander’s 102 games. Only Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia (each with 105 wins) have more, but both of those guys have spent time in the National league as well. Only two pitchers (Sabathia and Dan Haren) have struck out more batters.

As good as he was prior to this year, and his average season was 17-10, 3.77 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 211 innings, Verlander has been markedly better this year. He enters play against the Minnesota Twins today carrying a 19-5 record, a minuscule 2.28 ERA and is leading the league in innings pitched (209.2), strikeouts (212), and WHIP (0.878). Not only is he the front-runner for the Cy Young award, and I don’t think it’s very close, but he’s generating a debate among media types about his possible candidacy for league MVP.

When Verlander wins his next game, he’ll become the first Tiger to achieve 20 wins since Bill Gullickson did it in 1991. If he gets a victory today, he’ll be the first Tigers since 1971 to reach that total before September 1. If recent history is an indicator, Verlander has a good shot at getting there this afternoon.

He’s faced the Twins twice this season and held them to two runs on 12 hits and one walk in 15.2 innings. He’s won each of those starts and fanned 17 batters along the way. This Twins team has a much different look from the one he faced in each of his previous two starts, however. Gone are Delmon Young, now a teammate of Verlander’s in Detroit, and Jim Thome, one of Verlander’s biggest adversaries. This Twins team has been held to one run or fewer in each of their last six games, all losses.

Today’s game will be broadcast as one of the four regional options for the Fox Game of the Week, so a larger than normal audience will get a chance to see one of the game’s very best in action. You, if you are lucky enough to live in the viewing area, will be treated to strange pairing in the booth as Tigers play-by-play man Mario Impemba will be joined by Twins color analyst Bert Blyleven in the Fox TV booth. The combination of those two should be interesting.

I always hesitate to over-hype a pitcher, just because so often, even the great ones have bad outings. Verlander is certainly susceptible to laying an egg every now and again, but that doesn’t seem likely today. Verlander has looked every bit a man on a mission from his first start of the year.

He’s thrown one no-hitter already this season and flirted with at least two others. Every time he takes the ball, you can’t help but wonder (and almost expect) that you could see history made again. Against this Twins’ lineup, struggling as much as they have been of late, this afternoon has all the makings of another memorable outing for Verlander.

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