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September 4, 2012

What You Need to Know

Tuesday, September 4

by Daniel Rathman

The Labor Day Weekend Takeaway
One Tigers starting pitcher has delivered five consecutive quality starts, led the team to victory in each of those outings, and struck out at least eight batters every time. It’s not Justin Verlander. It’s not last year’s deadline addition, Doug Fister, or this year’s July pickup, Anibal Sanchez, either. Instead, Detroit’s August ace was the typically mercurial Max Scherzer.

The 28-year-old followed up his 2.25 August ERA by firing eight scoreless innings to defeat Francisco Liriano in the middle match of the Tigers’ weekend showdown with the White Sox. Fister—who was a tick better than Jake Peavy on Friday—and Verlander, who outdueled Chris Sale on Sunday, bookended the three-game sweep at Comerica Park, but Scherzer is the man of the hour, and he may give Jim Leyland a key weapon down the stretch and into October.

A first-round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2006, Scherzer does not lack for stuff, but consistency has never been his calling card.  He’s no stranger to dominance—such as his seven-inning, one-run, nine-strikeout win over the White Sox on May 5, and his 15-strikeout showing against the Pirates on May 20—but the former was preceded by a seven-walk fiasco in the Bronx, and the latter by a four-inning, seven-run debacle versus the very same White Sox he had baffled 10 days earlier.

Scherzer has logged five straight quality starts before—from June 12 through July 8 this year—but that streak was aided by an easy schedule, including three interleague opponents, and it began with a six-inning, three-run outing at Wrigley Field during which he issued five walks. Over his last seven starts, Scherzer has pitched 46 1/3 innings, compiling a 62-to-12 K:BB and a 2.42 FIP. He has walked no more than two and fanned at least eight each time out, a notable feat considering that, prior to this seven-game run, Scherzer had never done that in more than three consecutive outings. 

Saturday’s win pared Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.93, the lowest it has been since May 26—of last year. The Tigers are just 4-4 in Verlander’s last eight starts, but they have won eight of Scherzer’s last nine. He is not the ace of Detroit’s staff, but he’s become a competent second fiddle.

And that’s all the Tigers, who are now favored to win the American League Central and have about a two-in-three chance of reaching the postseason, need Scherzer to be. If he can maintain this summer surge into the fall, Detroit will be a tough out come October.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • With yesterday’s 4-3 loss at Tropicana Field, the Yankees’ once 10-game American League East lead dwindled to only one game over the Orioles and 2 ½ over the surging Rays, who have logged a remarkable 2.44 team ERA since the All-Star break. Joe Girardi’s squad has dropped nine of its last 13, but it will try to get back on track behind Freddy Garcia, who tossed 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball at the Trop on July 2. Joe Maddon will counter with Alex Cobb (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • Josh Willingham must cringe every time he sees the White Sox on the schedule. The Twins left fielder went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position in Monday’s series-opening defeat, and he’s just 6-for-47 against Chicago pitching this year. But there’s a silver lining to this story—four of those six hits, including two homers, have come in Willingham’s two encounters with Jose Quintana, who is set to toe the rubber for Robin Ventura’s squad in game two. Quintana allowed five runs on seven hits in a season-low 3 2/3 innings versus the Orioles on Thursday, and the White Sox need their rookie lefty to return to his pre-All-Star break form, since the Tigers are now nipping at their heels in the American League Central (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Angels crept a game closer in the wild-card race with Monday’s 8-3 win over the A’s, but they still trail Oakland by five and second-place Baltimore by four in the loss column. Zack Greinke, who has earned the win in each of his past two trips to the mound, will look to avenge a five-inning, four-run dud at the Coliseum on Aug. 8, during which he issued a season-high five walks. He’ll need some help from Torii Hunter—the hottest hitter in the league thanks to a 15-for-25 (.600 average) outburst over his last six games—who will lead the offense against A’s starter Jarrod Parker (10:05 p.m. ET).
  • Eric Stults made his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 2006, but four years later, the team sold him to the Hiroshima Carp, where the southpaw showed enough to earn a stateside job with the Rockies in 2011. Now with his fourth big-league organization, the 32-year-old Stults will get the ball for the Padres tonight, as San Diego looks to play spoiler by evening its series with Los Angeles. The Dodgers rallied late on Monday to stay within 4 ½ games of the first-place Giants, tying the game on Andre Ethier’s solo shot in the ninth, and sending the Chavez Ravine crowd home happy in the 11th with a two-out rally capped by A.J. EllisRBI single. They’ll send their ace, Clayton Kershaw, who owns a 2.51 ERA in 14 1/3 innings over three starts versus the Padres this year, to the bump to attempt to clinch the series (10:10 p.m. ET).
  • Call it regression or a simple blip on the radar screen, but after serving up only 10 home runs in his first 23 starts of the season, Ryan Vogelsong has been taken deep four times in his past two outings. The 35-year-old righty has seen his ERA climb from 2.27 on Aug. 8 all the way up to 3.02 heading into tonight’s home matchup with the Diamondbacks. Vogelsong held the D’backs to one run in seven innings at AT&T Park on May 29, and he’ll look to match that effort against Ian Kennedy tonight (10:15 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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