There are only 12 games left in the season, and the Tigers have a very real chance to make it to the Wild Card Game. To get to the magical threshold of 88 wins and give themselves for the best chance, Detroit is going to need to go 8-4 down the stretch.
The team has some favorable matchups, too. It would be hard not to like their odds of beating Ervin Santana on Wednesday with Justin Verlander on the mound, but first today they match up against Jose Berrios. The Tigers have bludgeoned Berrios for 13 runs in 5-2/3 innings across two starts this year and appeared to bust out of their early-month slump over the last few days. A sweep in Minnesota would be just what the doctor ordered to put the Tigers back in the thick of things.
So of course Detroit is turning to Buck Farmer to start the game.
Now, it is abundantly clear that the Tigers did not want to be in this situation. They did not ask to be in this situation. They had seven starting pitchers within the organization for a specific reason, and it was to avoid throwing Buck Farmer in a do-or-die series. However, Mike Pelfrey proved that his season-long quest for mediocrity had come to an end by getting shelled in Minnesota last Thursday. Jordan Zimmermann’s re-return to Detroit predictably ended in a massive failure, and Anibal Sanchez has a less-than-inspiring 5.79 ERA in September. That is three options, all veterans initially relied upon to anchor the rotation, that have failed colossally down the stretch.
Still, the move to Farmer is ... baffling. It could be that the Tigers are trying to implement the tag-team method of starting, where Farmer throws 50 or so pitches before being lifted for Sanchez. That isn’t exactly how manager Brad Ausmus reasoned the decision for the media:
"(Farmer) pitched well to end the season in Toledo. He pitched well the other day against the Twins in long relief. I just feel like he's going to give us a shot to win the game," Ausmus said.
Sanchez and Pelfrey will be available out of the bullpen and could still be called on to start later in the season if needed, Ausmus said.
That pretty much sounds like ride-or-die by Buck Farmer’s right arm. While it is true that he saved the bullpen with 4-1/3 innings of work last Thursday, he has a mediocre FIP of 4.78 on the year. Even more concerning is his lack of command: Farmer has an astronomical 5.92 BB/9 this year, which balloons even more to 8.25 over his last five appearances. He has not been effectively wild, either. Baltimore knocked Farmer around for four runs in three innings on Sept. 10.
Ultimately, this decision seems to have come down to process of elimination. Zimmermann and Pelfrey have been unworkably bad since returning from the disabled list, and Sanchez has fallen apart so rapidly that there seems to be little hope for him to regain whatever form he had in early August. This may not have been a bad spot for Sanchez, though: He’s struck out 19 Twins in 17 innings this year and has generally owned them throughout his career.
There is one other starting pitcher that is on the active roster and is capable of winning the game, Michael Fulmer. He is currently slotted for six days rest before starting on Friday, which we think may be detrimental for his effectiveness. Besides that, giving Fulmer the ball now would line him up for starts in games 156 and 161, thus giving him three starts through the end of the year, as opposed to only two if they wait until Friday to start him.
Barring that, it seems that Farmer is the last guy left in the organization that management believes capable of throwing five consecutive innings. They seem to want to avoid a true bullpen start, although those have surprising ways of being effective (too soon?). My only hope is that Ausmus does not feel the need to squeeze innings out of Farmer.
Matt Boyd’s brilliant start Tuesday and the looming presence of noted innings devourer Verlander tomorrow means that literally the entire bullpen should be available for extended work today. Treat this game like a playoff game. If that means yanking Farmer in the fourth for Bruce Rondon, then do it. It would be much better trying to squeeze six outs from Kyle Ryan in the middle innings than to try to squeeze 15 out of a command-missing Farmer.
After all, the race to 88 wins is winding down, and the Tigers have almost no margin for error in the stretch run.