Tuesday was an off night for Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. In their difficult 11-4 home loss at the hands of the Chicago White Sox, the losing pitching staff struck out a total of just six batters. It was only the 16th time this year the club has failed to strike out at least seven opposing hitters in a game. Seventeen other times, they’ve struck out at least a dozen.
Anibal Sanchez has played a big role this year on a staff that could set two significant team strikeout records. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
So it wasn’t a typical showing for the Detroit arms. But they’re still poised to set a major league record for punch-outs. Through 89 games, they’ve struck out 823 men. That pace, should they maintain it, would put them at 1,498 by season’s end. What’s the single-season record? That would be 1,404, set by the Chicago Cubs in 2003 behind Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
The media noticed the Tigers rotation in the latter part of April, with pieces from Jayson Stark and Lynn Henning popping up to tout their torrid strikeout pace. The hype has since died a bit. But the team has breezily kept up their early pace through June and well into August, and it has put them in position to do something historic.
Many members of the staff have contributed to their success in this area. Verlander, even during a down year, has struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings, the second-highest seasonal rate of his career. Max Scherzer, emerging as a second ace on the team, has averaged 9.5 strikeouts for a nine-inning period. But the biggest boost has come from Anibal Sanchez, spending his first full season in the American League, who has racked up 10.9 strikeouts per nine—his second-highest seasonal rate was 9.3 in 2011.
If those three rates hold, the Tigers would become the first team ever to have a trio of starters strike out a batter per inning and qualify for the ERA title.
The team also gets great strikeout numbers from their bullpen. Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Darin Downs, and Drew Smyly have all struck out more than a batter per inning. That quartet has totaled 143.2 innings together.
Of course, the team still has a more practical goal of winnings games and eventually the playoffs too. But a couple of significant strikeout records could be a nice bonus for a staff that is obviously loaded with talent.