Tigers again face long layoff before World Series
The next few days may feel a bit familiar to Detroit manager Jim Leyland.
The Tigers will have to wait a while before starting the World Series. Detroit won the AL pennant Thursday, wrapping up a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees. Now the Tigers won't play again until next Wednesday, when they open on the road against the winner of the NL championship series between St. Louis and San Francisco.
In 2006, Leyland's Tigers swept Oakland in the ALCS, finishing that series Oct. 14. The World Series didn't start until Oct. 21, and Detroit lost to St. Louis in five games.
''I do think the lull between our playoff and the World Series did work against us in 2006,'' Leyland said recently. ''Now, that's not to take anything away from the St. Louis Cardinals. But all of a sudden, our emotion went from so high to just a blah, looking at each other for six days of staring at each other with really no action. That's hard.''
The Tigers have workouts planned at Comerica Park from Saturday through Monday. The big question now is how the layoff will affect Detroit's sterling starting rotation, which has a 1.02 ERA so far in the postseason.
The Tigers breezed past the Yankees, with the starters allowing only two runs in the series. Justin Verlander made three starts in the playoffs, allowing only two runs - in the first inning of his first start and the ninth inning of his most recent start.
If the trend continues, Detroit should be very tough to beat, especially with an offense that finally broke out for eight runs in Game 4 against the Yankees.
Verlander was a rookie in 2006, and the team didn't make the playoffs again until last year, when the Tigers lost in the ALCS. The ace right-hander can appreciate the journey a bit more now than in '06.
''It's different because that seemed like it was easier. We were ahead all year,'' Verlander said. ''You have more of an appreciation of how hard it is to get here.''
The Tigers needed to overtake the Chicago White Sox late in the season to win the AL Central for a second straight year. Once in the postseason, pitching has carried them - with the exception of a couple meltdowns by closer Jose Valverde.
The jovial Valverde allowed four runs in Game 1 of the ALCS and hasn't pitched since. Phil Coke saved the next two games.
Leyland has remained adamant that Detroit may still need Valverde to come through in a big spot.
''It's not only one guy. ... It takes everybody,'' Valverde said. ''I'll be ready for the World Series.''
Max Scherzer might not mind the layoff either. The right-hander's throwing shoulder acted up toward the end of the regular season, and he started Game 4 of both the division series and LCS, coming out in the sixth inning of both.
''Last year (in the playoffs) I really tried to relax and slow it down because of the situation and that didn't work,'' Scherzer said. ''This year I was able to get pumped up in the right situations.''
The pitching staff has performed so well sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder haven't had to carry too much of the load. Cabrera, the AL Triple Crown winner, homered in the finale against the Yankees, but the Tigers have been able to win in spite of an offense that's spotty at times.
''Fister and Scherzer have been dominating since the All-Star break. Then if you add that with Verlander, you've got three No. 1 starters there and they're pitching like it,'' catcher Gerald Laird said. ''That can be tough on any team, any series.''
The Tigers are now four wins from their first World Series title since 1984 - and their four starters look plenty capable of getting them.
''We're all on top of our games and executing pitches when we need to,'' Scherzer said. ''That's what makes it dangerous.''