Led by pitchers like Scherzer, eyes of Tigers on World Series title
Max Scherzer and the Tigers clinched the American League pennant on Thursday
Scherzer became the fourth Detroit pitcher to dominate the Yankees in the ALCS
Their pitching staff makes the Tigers favorites to win the World Series
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer has heterochromia iridum, which means he has one light blue eye and one brown eye. This can startle you when you look him in the eyes for the first time, and so Scherzer has seen a lifetime of startled looks.
Naturally, his Tigers teammates never tease him about this, except when they feel like it. And so there was Scherzer Thursday night, keeping the spraying bottles of bubbly out of his eyes with custom goggles: one green lens, and one blue. A little funky, but ...
"Funky?" he shouted. "They're the best goggles in the clubhouse!"
He laughed. They can all laugh. The Tigers beat the Yankees 8-1 to sweep the ALCS and are going back to the World Series for the first time since 2006, and no matter who they face -- the Cardinals or the Giants -- they should be favored.
The Tigers sprayed faux champagne, out of courtesy to star Miguel Cabrera, who has undergone alcohol counseling. But the team itself is the real deal. Their starting pitchers are rolling like few staffs in recent history, and that's why they should be World Series favorites.
These guys just turned the Yankees into a $200 million corpse. New York was beaten so badly that by Game 4, I wondered if Joe Girardi would make up his lineup card or fill out a police report.
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The Yankees' offseason begins now, and if they are bored, imagine how Jeff Jones feels. He is the Tigers' pitching coach. Normally, starters have to make adjustments between outings -- to their arm angles and windups and whatever else is not quite right. In a hallway in the Tigers clubhouse Tuesday night, Jones smiled and said his four starters aren't really working on anything at the moment. They are in complete control.
Well, OK. One guy is working on a couple of things. His name is Justin Verlander. He has a 0.74 ERA in this postseason.
Anything can change in baseball. But come Wednesday, when the World Series starts, who is going to beat these guys four times? Verlander is the game's best pitcher. Doug Fister (a 2011 midseason trade pickup) and Anibal Sanchez (a 2012 midseason trade pickup) have matching 1.35 ERAs in the postseason.
And then there is Scherzer, who would be an ace on most staffs. If his eyes look like they belong on two different faces, then think of it this way: One eye was on the Yankees. The other one was fixed on this stat line:
2 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 1 K
That was Scherzer's line when the Rangers eliminated his Tigers in Game 6 of last year's American League Championship Series.
2 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 1 K
"That stung the whole offseason," Scherzer said "I worked my butt off. Every single day, that's what I thought about, was Game 6 of last year's ALCS."
On Thursday, he only allowed two hits and one run. He probably would have pitched past the sixth inning if he had not had recent shoulder trouble, and if the Yankees had the courtesy to put the ball in play once in a while. Scherzer faced 22 batters. He struck out 10 of them, and left after throwing 98 pitches.
It was strange to see the Yankees look so hopeless. They are many things, but rarely hopeless. Yet Scherzer did not just think he would pitch this well. He knew. They all knew.
"I felt like I was going to have command of three pitches," he said. "The way that my changeup, and the way that my slider's been lately, I knew if I was going to be able to execute that, I knew I was going to pitch well."
It is easy to wonder why the Tigers, who were supposed to be a juggernaut, are suddenly playing like one. But the question is flawed. The Tigers were never really a dominant team -- they have considerable defensive flaws, stumble on the basepaths (often literally) and don't have a particularly deep lineup.
They were an overwhelming favorite to win the American League Central, but that was mostly a reflection of two things that seemed true in March but were not.
It seemed fair to say that Prince Fielder was a huge upgrade for a team that won 95 games last year. In reality, Fielder was a replacement for Victor Martinez, who put up an OPS of .850 last year but tore up his knee in January. Fielder's OPS this year was .940, which is a significant upgrade, but not the kind of difference that drastically changes a team's record.
And it seemed fair to say the Tigers would run away from a terrible division. I certainly thought so. But the White Sox were surprisingly good this year, forcing the Tigers into a race.
The Tigers don't really have the roster to be a truly great 162-game team. But they are great now. They have what the 2010 Giants had, and the 2005 White Sox had and the 2001 Diamondbacks had: A starting rotation that is blowing hitters away in October.
No, the regular season was not always pretty. But in the extremely wet clubhouse after a sweep of the vaunted Yankees, one Tiger after another said the same thing: They always felt if they played well, they could beat anybody.
There is only one anybody left. Whoever it is, wish 'em luck.
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