Justin Verlander tossed seven shutout innings in leading the Detroit Tigers to their 11th consecutive win last night, a 5-0 decision over the Chicago White Sox. Verlander’s performance netted him his 23 rd victory of the season and was his 11th win in his last 11 starts.
Verlander’s 23 wins this year are the most by an American league pitcher since Barry Zito won that many in his Cy Young season of 2002. With two starts remaining, the Tigers’ ace has a shot at adding to his total. No AL hurler has won 24 games in a season since Bob Welch won 27 for the A’s in 1990.
Last night, Verlander worked in and out of trouble a couple of times in the first four innings. A groundball through the legs of Wilson Betemit (ruled a hit) in the first was followed by an error by second baseman Will Rhymes. Verlander was able to escape the first-and-third, one out jam by getting a double play ball to end the inning. In the fourth, the White Sox loaded the bases on a single sandwiched in between two walks. He then dialed up consecutive fastballs at 101 mph to get ahead of Gordon Beckham before finishing the at bat with a breaking ball on the outside corner.
No matter how you break down the numbers, Verlander has been dominant this season. He leads the league in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP, ERA, winning percentage, opponents’ batting average, and hits allowed/9 innings. He has allowed just 53 walks this season, not issuing more than three walks in any start since May 2.
In his last 11 starts, all wins, Verlander has averaged more than seven innings per start, struck out 85 batters in 79 innings and pitched to a 2.51 ERA. Since starting the season 2-3 with a pedestrian 3.75 ERA through his first seven starts, Verlander is 21-2 over his last 25 starts, posting a 2.01 ERA in that time.
There is no rational debate to be had about any pitcher other than Verlander being the Cy Young award winner this year. Reasonable minds can differ on whether or not he should be also named the league’s Most Valuable Player. As tremendous as he has been, at this point he wouldn’t get my vote for MVP. That’s not because he’s a pitcher, by the way; I have no qualms about pitchers winning the award. According to the ballot, pitchers are eligible, so if I thought he was, in fact, the most valuable, I would support his cause. It just so happens that I believe Miguel Cabrera to be the more valuable of the Tigers’ players and, in my book, the most valuable in the league.
This season’s awards talk is unique for Tigers fans in that way. Every year, it seems, there are at least a couple of Yankees and at least a couple of Red Sox having “MVP-type” years, along with a player from four or five other teams. In past years, Tiger fans could tout the exploits of Cabrera or Magglio Ordonez, or Curtis Granderson as viable choices for league MVP, but this year, the club has legitimate candidates in both Cabrera and Verlander and a case could be made for Victor Martinez and Alex Avila as well.
The combination of all these guys is what has made the Tigers successful, just as similar combinations make the Yankees or Rangers or Red Sox winners. It’s a good time to be a tiger fan right now.