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Who should be the Tigers' No. 1 starter in the postseason?

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JUSTIN VERLANDER
MAX SCHERZER

Verlander should get the nod

Crasnick By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN.com
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Detroit manager Jim Leyland might not be down with the new-fangled baseball metrics, but he's won 1,769 games, three pennants and a World Series while subscribing to the notion that players perform best in their comfort zones. That's a roundabout way to say he should start Justin Verlander in the Tigers' opening game of the 2013 playoffs.

The numbers substantiate that Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez are both having better seasons. But Verlander is having a down year only by his exacting standards. Even though his velocity has dipped and his massive pre-2013 workload might be taking a toll, he still ranks fifth in the American League with 207 strikeouts and 10th among starters with a 4.2 WAR. And his 21 quality starts match the output for Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish this season.

Think Verlander has trouble dialing it up and dominating an opposing lineup? Just ask the Pirates, who struck out 13 times in seven innings against him. Or the Blue Jays, who managed three hits over seven innings with a lineup that featured Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Or the Indians, who cuffed him around in two April encounters, then scored one run in 15 innings against him in August and September.

Or check with the A's, who might be Detroit's Division Series opponent. Verlander posted a 2-0 record and a 0.56 ERA against essentially the same Oakland lineup in the first round last year -- and pitched a complete-game shutout in the series finale. Are we all suffering from short-term memory loss?

Verlander knows what it means to go into a hostile environment and win. He also has the competitive DNA to take it personally when skeptics say he should give way to Scherzer or (as the MLB Network's Brian Kenny has suggested) move to the bullpen in October. Verlander has taken some lumps in the postseason. But he never takes the mound with a shred of doubt that he's going to win the game.

Think back to late March, when the Tigers gave Verlander a $180 million contract extension that will keep him in Detroit through 2019. They're not paying him all that money to ride shotgun, sing background vocals or pitch Game 2 in the playoffs. Leyland and general manager David Dombrowski are big on consistency and loyalty, and they value Verlander's track record and fortitude enough that they're not about to bail on him after a few rough patches.

In the end, Detroit's title chances will hinge more on Miguel Cabrera's health than the pitching sequence for Verlander and Scherzer (or Scherzer and Verlander). But with Cabrera hurting, the Tigers need the 2011 Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP to pitch well if they want to play deep into October. There's no better way for Leyland to show his faith in Verlander than to give him the ball in Game 1.

Gotta go with Scherzer

Schoenfield By David Schoenfield
ESPN.com
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The most important decision a manager might make all postseason is his Game 1 starter for the division series; after all, the Game 1 starter is usually set up to also start a decisive Game 5 if needed. For most teams, its usually pretty clear who the No. 1 guy is. For Jim Leyland, the decision is a little more complicated -- in a good way.

Managers tend to rely on what they know, or what they think they know. Leyland is leaning toward Justin Verlander over Max Scherzer (or even Anibal Sanchez) as his Game 1 starter for the Tigers, perhaps with the memory of last years division series when Verlander twice beat the A's, allowing just one run in 16 innings while striking out 22.

But 2012 Verlander is not 2013 Verlander, and this year he's been decidedly less dominant, with more hits allowed, a higher walk rate and a lower strikeout rate. He's been good but not great. You want your Game 1 starter to be great.

That's why I'd start Scherzer, the likely AL Cy Young winner this year. He's allowed 3.17 runs per nine versus Verlander's 3.98. His peripherals are all better than Verlander's, with a dominant .201/.253/.336 opponents batting line, compared to Verlander's .256/.319/.382.

A manager does like to lean on experience in the postseason. It's why Twins manager Tom Kelly started Jack Morris over Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson in 1991, even though those two were a little better than Morris that year in the regular season. That decision worked out pretty well for Kelly. But it didnt work so well for Cito Gaston the next year in Toronto, when Morris started Game 1 of the ALCS and World Series and didn't win any of his four postseason starts (the Blue Jays won the World Series anyway).

Let's keep in mind that Verlander's overall postseason history has mixed results. He had three good starts last year but then got bombed in Game 1 of the World Series. In 2011, he had two starts in which he allowed four runs and a third in which he lasted just four innings.

Plus, it's not like Scherzer is lacking postseason experience, with six career starts (his postseason ERA is lower than Verlander's). He was excellent last October, allowing three runs in four starts, with a 26-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

People have said Scherzer hasn't been as good as late, but I dont see the evidence. His OPS allowed is lower in the second half, as is his ERA. One bad start against the A's in August and one mediocre one against the White Sox in September does not constitute a slump.

This year, Scherzer is Detroit's ace. He should get the ball for playoff opener.

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