Justin Verlander has been the premier pitcher in baseball since 2009. Overall, he is 136-76 for his career with the 2006 Rookie of the Year, 2011 Most Valuable Player, and 2011 Cy Young Award in his trophy case. Despite the hardware, Verlander has struggled in the postseason. His career win-loss record is 6-4 in 12 starts with a 4.22 ERA and 1.237 WHIP. Verlander is an ace, but has been rather pedestrian in October.
The Tiger ace has won 11 or more games every season he pitched in the majors. He has won at least 17 games every season from 2006-2012, except 2008. Verlander has led the league in wins and win percentage twice, game starts, strikeouts, and innings three times, and ERA and WHIP once. The right hander has won a mantle full of awards, thrown two no-hitters, and notched a Triple Crown. Since 2009, he has been the game’s best as he has totaled 19, 18, 24, 17, and 13 wins.
Verlander has done everything on the field except win a World Series. In fact, he has struggled in postseason play. He has had some shining moments, but his overall body of work is not worthy a starter of his caliber. His first postseason might be excused because he was a rookie, but after 12 games, a pattern has developed.
The pitcher made his postseason debut in 2006. Verlander won the Rookie of the Year with 17 wins and a 3.63 ERA that season. Detroit lost Game One of the American League Division Series (ALDS) to the New York Yankees on the road. The team desperately needed Game Two. Verlander allowed three runs in 5.1 innings and received a no-decision in the Tiger victory. He kept Detroit in the game, but walked four and left tied.
The Tigers downed the mighty Yankees and moved to the 2006 American League Championship Series (ALCS) against Oakland. They won Game One behind Brandon Inge, Ivan Rodriguez, Nate Robertson, and the bullpen. Verlander started Game Two in an attempt to put the A’s in an 0-2 hole. Oakland had a weaker lineup than New York, but Verlander performed worse. Once again, he lasted 5.1 innings and kept his team in the game, but he surrendered four runs. However, he only walked one batter and struck out six. He won the game 8-5 and the Tigers went on to sweep the A’s out of the playoffs.
Verlander got the ball for Game One of the 2006 World Series against the St Louis Cardinals. The Cards racked the 17-game-winner for six earned runs in five innings. Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen each homered off the Tiger. Verlander returned for Game Five with the Tigers down 3-games-to-1 and pitched a lot better. He allowed only one earned run in six innings, but Detroit lost to former Tiger Jeff Weaver 4-2. The series ended when Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge.
The Tigers were the favorites in the 2006 Fall Classic, but fell. They did not return to the postseason again until 2011. This was the Year of Verlander. He won the Triple Crown with 24 wins, 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts. He also led the league in innings (251) and WHIP (0.920). Rain ruined Verlander’s first ALDS start against the Yankees. He only pitched an inning before a lengthy delay ended his night. Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia also ended his night early. The MVP returned for Game 3 and won the game 5—4. Verlander lasted eight innings, but allowed four runs. Overall, he pitched nine innings and allowed five earned runs in the 2011 ALDS.
The Tigers dumped the Yankees in five games in the 2011 ALDS and advanced to face the Texas Rangers in the ALCS. Rain interfered with Verlander once again. He lasted four innings in Game One and allowed three runs in four innings and was saddled with the loss. Verlander returned for Game Five. The Tigers desperately needed a victory and he supplied it. He pitched 7.1 innings and won 7-5. Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer in the eighth to make the score 7-4 Detroit. Phil Coke finished for the save. The Rangers eliminated the Tigers 15-5 in Game 6.
In 2006 and 2011, Verlander’s postseason record was 4-3 with an ERA well over 5.00. In five postseason series, his ERA was 5.08, 6.75, 5.73, 5.00, and 5.56. In 2012, the righty finished second in the Cy Young vote with a 17-8 campaign. He finally pitched like a top shelf starter in the ALDS against Oakland and Detroit needed him. Verlander opened the series with a 3-1 victory. It was his best postseason effort to date. The ace went 7, allowed 3 hits, 1 run, walked 4, and struck out 11. Detroit won Game 2, but the pesky A’s evened the series with wins in Game 3 and 4. Verlander returned for Game 5 and pitched better than Game One. Detroit scored six and Verlander threw a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts. He was the MVP of the 2012 ALDS. The former MVP and Cy Young winner pitched 16 innings, allowed 7 hits, 1 run, walked 5, and struck out 22.
Unfortunately, baseball does not award a MVP for the ALDS. They do issue the award for the ALCS, but Verlander only appeared in one game and Delmon Young received the trophy. Detroit swept the Yankees and Verlander could not pitch until Game 3. He pitched 8.1 innings, allowed 3 hits, and struck out 3. Detroit won the game 2-1 and then put New York out to pasture in Game 4.
It appeared Verlander’s luck had changed in 2012. He dominated his three playoff starts entering the World Series. However, he faced a team of destiny with the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco seemed to get all the bounces and breaks. They swept the Tigers and Game One set the tone. Verlander allowed five runs in four innings to the Giants. Pablo Sandoval hit two home runs off the Tiger ace and later hit a third off reliever Al Alburquerque. The Tigers lost 8-3. The Giants proceeded to win the next three contests 2-0, 2-0, and 4-3. The Tiger offense did not wake up until it was too late.
Justin Verlander has had a checkered postseason career. Despite being the dominant pitcher of his era, he has had issues in October. In eight postseason series, he has had an ERA of 5.00 or higher six times. Only in the 2012 ALDS and ALCS did he perform to his usual high standards. Inexperience, rain, and bad pitches all contributed to his problems. The Tigers need Verlander to overcome in order to win their first title since 1984.