Make no mistake, all that stands between the Texas Rangers and another trip to the World Series is the best pitcher in baseball this season and a slam dunk for the American League Cy Young Award.
Not Joaquin Benoit. Not Papa Grande. Not Doug Fister, who shut the Rangers down in Game 3.
It's Justin Verlander, and Justin Verlander alone.
The Tigers' stout 8th and 9th inning guys, Benoit and Jose Valverde, have pitched on three straight days with multiple-inning apperances included in there. Even Detroit manager Jim Leyland said after Wednesday's game that the two are running on "heart and fumes."
So in order for the Tigers to stay alive and send the ALCS back to Arlington, Verlander is most likely going to have to pitch a gem and go 8 or 9 innings. He is plenty capable of such performances, but his style of pitching plays into the hands of the Rangers bats.
The Rangers are a fastball hitting team, dead-red. They absolutely love hitting fastballs, and that's what Verlander excels at. In Saturday's rain-wrecked Game 1, Verlander went four innings and allowed three runs while struggling with his off-speed stuff to get the Rangers' timing off. He gave up five hits, two walks and struck out five.
Jim Leyland has constantly alluded to the fact that Verlander is tired, saying he refuses to pitch him on short rest in the postseason, which in itself isn't all that alarming. But when you have a guy as dynamic as Verlander and you refuse to use him even when he says he can go, you must know something. In the postseason so far, Verlander is 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA, more than three runs higher than his regular-season ERA. In his last 10 starts of the regular season, he gave up three runs or more five times.
The Tigers should be confident today with Verlander on the mound, but the Rangers should not be intimidated either. Verlander can be beaten, and the Rangers have proven it twice this season.