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Justin Verlander still belongs in Tigers' playoff rotation

Rick Porcello's breakout season is tempting some fans to put JV in the bullpen in the playoffs. Here's why that's a bad idea.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Don't count your chickens before they hatch. Don't put the cart in front of the horse. When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.

Superstitions and jinxes be damned. Pay no heed to the foreboding that clichés warn against.

The Tigers are going to make the playoffs. They will win their fourth straight AL Central flag.

The rest of the division stinks, and that's including the Kansas City Royals, who bob to the surface every six weeks until they are again weighted down by their inept offense and lack of maturity of their supposed young studs.

The Cleveland Indians have a couple weapons on offense but their pitching is dreadful. The Chicago White Sox can hit but they can't pitch and they can't play defense. The Minnesota Twins are too young and their starting rotation throws batting practice.

The Royals may be the only team in the Central other than the Tigers to play so much as .500 baseball when all is said and done.

So fear not. The Tigers will be attending the October dance.

I clearly am not alone in my supposition, because much has been written and said lately about rookie manager Brad Ausmus' playoff pitching rotation.

How much more presumptuous can you get than that?

This is a hot topic because  you don't need a five-man rotation in the postseason. And, unlike the past three playoffs, the Tigers don't have an obvious odd man out.

Meaning, Ricky Porcello is daring to pitch like a top four guy for a change.

Porcello's breakout year, coming at the still tender age of 25, combined with the pedestrian year being authored by a certain former Cy Young Award winner, has apparently thrown the Tigers' playoff rotation asunder.

The question is being asked, louder and more often: Should the Tigers bring Justin Verlander out of the bullpen in the postseason?

Those posing the question would seem, on the surface, to be broaching a debatable subject.

Verlander, 10–10 at this writing with an ERA north of 4.50 and a WHIP of 1.40, hasn't exactly been the JV we all have come to know and love. Meanwhile, Porcello is 13–6 with a 3.09 ERA and a WHIP of 1.13.

So why not, those asking say, boot Verlander to the bullpen come playoff time?

Let's answer that, shall we, with some true or false statements.

Verlander has never pitched in relief in the big leagues. Ever.

It's true. Not even in his two-game cup of coffee with the Tigers in 2005 has Verlander come out of the bullpen. Yet folks would be willing to turn him into a reliever, just like that, at the most important time of the year when we have no idea how he would perform in a role that is foreign to him.

Starting pitchers are creatures of routine and rhythm. Verlander has made 290 big league appearances, all of them starts. How the heck would he respond to being turned into a reliever at the snap of Brad Ausmus' fingers?

Yes, I know Max Scherzer made a memorable relief appearance in Game 4 of last year's ALDS. But Mad Max was in Jim Leyland's playoff rotation, and his relief stint was understood to be a one-and-done thing. That, plus Scherzer wasn't exactly unhittable. He surrendered a tie-breaking run almost immediately in the seventh inning, and then he loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth before kicking it into high gear and escaping the inning with no runs scored. The Tigers won the game and salvaged their season, but Scherzer got them into trouble in order to get them out of it, frankly.

Tim Lincecum, another former Cy Young winner, turned into a reliever for the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series and was absolutely lights out against Detroit. But Lincecum's demotion was due to his simply brutal regular season, when he led the National League with 15 losses and had an ERA of 5.15 and a WHIP of 1.47.

Verlander has pitched much better in his starts since the All-Star break and seems to be trending upward.

Verlander's style is better suited for the rapid fire work out of the bullpen.


Proponents of this argument say that since Verlander is a power pitcher whose stamina seems to be waning slightly, he'd be perfectly suited for the 20–25 pitch limits of a relief outing.

If that's the case, then how come he has made 290 big league appearances as a starter?!

You can't have it both ways here. Either he's a starter or he's not. Besides, starters don't pitch with a mentality of making 20–25 pitches at a time, as a rule. After 20–25 pitches, a career starter is just getting warmed up.

Again, witness Scherzer's struggles upon entering Game 4 of last year's ALDS.

Rick Porcello has outpitched Verlander and thus deserves to be in the playoff rotation.

True (the first part) and false (the second part).

Porcello has been fantastic this year, no question. The numbers scream that the New Jersey Kid has outdone the Virginian in the rotation thus far.

But aside from Game 163 in 2009 in which, granted, he pitched well as a 20-year-old Porcello has made two career postseason starts in his first five MLB years. Two.

Verlander, on the other hand, has made 15 playoff starts, to the tune of 93 innings. His ERA in October is 3.28 with a WHIP of 1.07.

Let's consider this before we say Porcello "deserves" anything in the postseason.

Verlander is 31 years old and is showing signs of wear and tear.

Isn't that what they said last year at age 30?

Verlander didn't exactly mow them down in the regular season last year, either, but he was absolutely brilliant in September and the postseason.

The man gave up one run in 23 playoff innings in 2013. Sadly, that one run was an ill-timed home run surrendered to Boston's Mike Napoli in Game 3 of the ALCS, which was the game-winning run, giving the Red Sox a 2–1 series lead.

And Verlander turned in that kind of playoff performance despite needing (as it turned out) core muscle surgery in the offseason.

I'd say that he has been, for the most part, a money pitcher in the playoffs, as recently as last year.

It must be proven in the playoffs, to me, that he is worn down before I'll believe it. And the only way to tell for sure is by running him out there.

In summary ...

There are still nearly 50 games left in the season. The Tigers rotation, with the recent addition of lefty David Price, is like a pack of five thoroughbreds coming around the final turn. The four best horses qualify for the playoff rotation.

Not to take anything away from Porcello, but don't you want to see if the other shoe drops on his storybook season before getting too carried away with putting into the bullpen a Cy Young/MVP guy whose ERA in his past three playoff starts is 0.39?

It says here that once the five horses cross the finish line after Game 162, Verlander won't have done anything that warrants removing him from a spotlight under which he has mostly thrived in his decorated career.

Porcello will have his time. He still is only 25 for gosh sakes.