2012 ALCS: How Justin Verlander Coming Up Small Would Change Everything

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2012

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 03: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers reacts after giving up a lead off home run to Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees during the game at Comerica Park on June 3, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.The Yankees defeated the Tigers 5-1. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

With the way that the Detroit Tigers starting pitchers have thrown the ball in the playoffs, it's fair to wonder whether they aren't in fact Terminators, sent here to kill the World Series hopes of every team in their path.

Tigers Starting PitchersERA This Postseason: Max Scherzer0.00Justin Verlander0.56Anibal Sanchez1.35Doug Fister1.35

— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) October 16, 2012

But alas, they are human, and that means that they are not foolproof.

They can have an off night—even the best pitcher on the planet, Justin Verlander.

Verlander has made two playoff starts against the New York Yankees before (and I'm not counting the one inning last year before Game 1 of the ALDS was rained out): Game 3 of the 2011 ALDS and Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS.

While the Tigers won both games, Verlander allowed seven earned runs and 13 hits over 13.1 innings of work, which comes out to a 4.73 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.

A similar performance Tuesday night in Game 3, if Phil Hughes throws like he did against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing one run over nearly seven innings of work, might not wind up in the Tigers' favor.

To his credit, Verlander isn't taking anything for granted:

“We won two big games, but we have to win two more to go to the World Series. We’re not taking anything for granted.” @justinverlander

— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) October 15, 2012

The reality of the situation is that the Yankees appear to be a beaten, broken team with no will left to fight. They aren't a sleeping giant—they are a giant who seems to have lapsed into a coma.

Teixeira is 3-for-35 vs. Verlander. Ibanez is 3-for-29. Swisher 11-for-61 w/ 23 strikeouts. Ouch. espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2…

— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) October 16, 2012

 

Robinson Cano: hitless in last 26 at-bats, an MLB record for a single postseason...Alex Rodriguez: 4-6, 2 HR vs Justin Verlander in 2012

— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) October 16, 2012

That last number is an interesting one. Alex Rodriguez has done nothing at all this postseason, and he desperately needs a big-time performance.

Could A-Rod be the catalyst that wakes the offense from its slumber?

Stranger things have happened.

CC Sabathia is going to take on Max Scherzer in Game 4—and while Scherzer has been brilliant in the playoffs, so has Sabathia.

With an awakening Yankees offense behind him, you'd have to like the big guy's chances of evening things up.

That leads us to Andy Pettitte vs. Doug Fister in Game 5, and a Hiroki Kuroda vs. Anibal Sanchez battle in Game 6, which sets up the best pitching matchup that any playoff series has seen thus far: CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander with the right to play in the World Series hanging in the balance.

Now, if you're looking for me to put my neck on the line and say that Verlander is going to struggle in Game 3 on Tuesday night, it's not going to happen.

Not a chance.

But his track record against the Yankees in the playoffs suggests that it could happen, that he stumbles on Tuesday night and the door opens, ever so slightly, for the Yankees to get back into this series.

Opening that door, even an inch, changes everything.