Max Scherzer becomes key player in series

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
11:50
AM ET
TBDAP Photo/Kathy KmonicekThe Detroit Tigers need a strong outing from Max Scherzer in the ALCS against Texas.
If there's one piece of good news for the Detroit Tigers, it's that Sunday's rainout means Max Scherzer received an extra day of rest before his Game 2 start. Scherzer had thrown 32 pitches in a relief outing against the Yankees in Game 5 of the Division Series, so now he'll have three days between appearances instead of two.

On the other hand, the list of problems for the Tigers continues to grow.

1. Magglio Ordonez refractured the ankle he injured last season, becoming the third Tigers outfielder to get injured down the stretch, joining Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch. Young will be added back to the roster, but his oblique strain will likely limit him to pinch-hitting duties. (Update: Young is in the starting lineup for Game 2. Which begs a follow-up question: If he's able to start, why was he left off the roster in the first place? While Ryan Raburn is an acceptable replacement for Young in left field, it does hurt Jim Leyland's versatility as Raburn often played second base against left-handed pitching. And while Don Kelly might be one of Leyland's favorite guys, he had four hits all season against left-handed pitchers and is hitting .185 in his career against lefties (10-for-54, 13 strikeouts, one walk). Kelly against Derek Holland or Matt Harrison doesn't look like a good matchup for the Tigers.

2. Alex Avila and Austin Jackson are a mess right now. Avila is hitting .050 (1-for-20) in the postseason. Jackson is hitting .143 (3-for-21). They've struck out a combined 20 times. Needless to say, those two need to start hitting.

3. The Rangers' bullpen. Let's see: Alexi Ogando comes in throwing 98 mph heat; Mike Adams is one of the best setup guys around; Neftali Feliz was clocked at 101 in Game 1 and looked dominant in striking out the side. Lefty Darren Oliver can be used to face Avila or Kelly. As good as Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde have been this season, the Rangers' bullpen depth looks like a big edge right now, a key advantage as the series plays four games in four days.

4. Justin Verlander hasn't delivered. He's pitched 13 innings this postseason and has allowed 18 runners and eight runs. Yes, the weather hasn't been good in two of his starts, but no matter how you slice it up, Verlander hasn't kept runs off the board. Everyone raved about his Game 3 performance against the Yankees, but he still allowed four runs that game. I don't care if he was throwing 100 mph and dropping knee-buckling curves ... he still gave up four runs. He has to pitch better.

Of course, the Tigers need to win at least one of the next three games to get Verlander another start. Barring any further rainouts, here's how the rotations line up:

Game 2, Monday: Scherzer versus Holland
Game 3, Tuesday: Doug Fister versus Colby Lewis
Game 4, Wednesday: Rick Porcello versus Harrison
Game 5, Thursday: Verlander versus C.J. Wilson
Game 6, Saturday: Scherzer versus Holland
Game 7, Sunday: Fister versus Lewis

The Tigers are hitting .226 through their first six playoff games, so they're going to need some big outings from Scherzer and Fister. Lewis is actually a much better pitcher on the road, as his big problem -- home runs -- becomes less of an issue away from The Ballpark. On paper, he also matches up well against Detroit's righty-heavy lineup, as he allowed right-handed batters just a .204 average and .238 on-base percentage this season.

On the optimistic side, if the Tigers can get to Game 5, I like their chances: Verlander shuts down the Rangers in that game, Scherzer comes up big in Game 6, and then Lewis has to pitch at home, where he had a 5.54 ERA and allowed 22 home runs in 15 starts.

It looks like Scherzer has become the key man in this series. While going down 2-0 isn't the end of the world, four games in four days means Leyland will have to be careful about how much he uses Benoit and Valverde. With Porcello unlikely to go deep into his game, a strong outing from Scherzer today -- pitching into the seventh or eighth inning -- becomes paramount to help keep the bullpen fresh for the next two games.

Scherzer started three times against the Rangers this season, allowing nine runs in 17 innings. Six innings and two runs, like he did in two of his starts, would be acceptable.

Eight innings and two runs? Even better.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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