In writing this weekly series on why the Tigers are "charged for the postseason," we've spent most of our time talking about the lineup. And why not, with Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder holding three of the top four spots in the batting order, the addition of Omar Infante fixing a glaring hole both at second base and in the lineup, and the much-needed changes around the lineup's five and six spots. But you know, the rotation is pretty nice, too.
The challenge you have when talking about the Tigers' rotation is generally that dreaded 'p' word: potential. There is so much to like about the top four. Justin Verlander is the reigning Cy Young/American League MVP. Max Scherzer is striking batters out at a rate unseen for years. Doug Fister can put together long strings of starts where he allows three runs or less and puts his team in a position to win nearly every time he's on the mound. Anibal Sanchez has a career track record that ranks him slightly below Fister, but on any given night, he can throw a gem. Most nights, he, too, allows three runs or less.
It's not hard to imagine, if every Tigers pitcher is on top of his game and the Tigers' lineup doesn't take the night off, Detroit sweeping either in a best-of-five or a best-of-seven series. Opponents barely matter. That is how good each of these pitchers is when he's on.
But the caveats. You knew they were coming. Max Scherzer is inconsistent. Doug Fister is only that good when he's not injured -- and this season, he's been battling with his body far too often. Anibal Sanchez may have shown plenty during the course of his career, but more often than not in Detroit (so far) he's made it nearly impossible for his team to rebound from the deficit he's built. (There are no caveats for Justin Verlander. There will likely never be caveats for Justin Verlander.)
So it's not all puppy dog, kittens and ice cream flavored like unicorn farts, either.
But you know what? I'll accept that. Most rotations have problems. Most starters are not aces every time they take the mound. The Tigers really aren't in that bad of a place despite the potential to bewilder or anger the paying customers on any given night. The Tigers' rotation actually has the American League's best FIP and xFIP -- stats that leave defense out of it. I don't care what they said in Bull Durham, I like strikeouts, and the Tigers have some real machines there.
Most nights, the Tigers' starters do their job well enough and it's up to their team to score some runs. On any given night, each of them can be pretty much untouchable. To me, that's exactly what you want in October.