Minneapolis — This is going to be the essence of September for the Tigers:
Play hard, try to win and see what’s in place for next season.
Max Scherzer is in place for next season.
“In my opinion, he’s the best pitcher in the American League right now,” Gerald Laird said.
Looking at next year is essential at this point because this season’s not going anywhere for the Tigers.
Never mind what matters in the standings or what doesn’t. Just assume it doesn’t anymore. The Tigers lost 2-1 in 10 innings Wednesday to the Twins, a team they had to sweep even to have a chance of getting back in contention.
Instead, the Tigers have lost two consecutive Twins-like games by one run and have fallen to 12 games out, matching the most they’ve been out of first place all year.
The difference is that when they were 12 games out before, there were 40 games remaining. Now there are 29.
Their remote chance of getting back in it has become none.
Danny Valencia’s one-out single to center off Ryan Perry is what beat the Tigers this time — other than their inability to make the most of their own opportunities.
After Scherzer held the Twins to one run on four hits while striking out nine in nine innings, the Tigers had gone to their bullpen for the 10th inning.
It had been a game of outstanding pitching and defense.
Francisco Liriano had been good for the Twins, but not as good as Scherzer was for the Tigers.
Austin Jackson made a fantastic catch on the sacrifice fly that drove in the Twins’ first run, turning the play into a double-play. Sacrifice fly double-plays aren’t common, that’s for sure.
Michael Cuddyer led off the 10th with a single for the Twins. He stole second on the pitch that struck out Delmon Young, but scored easily on Valencia’s single to center.
So much for the result.
It’s more productive, and better management of your time, to focus on what Scherzer has become — is Laird’s assessment correct? — in the second half of the season.
In his last 14 starts, he’s 7-3 with a 1.60 ERA. In the seven starts he’s not won, the Tigers have been blanked twice, held under three runs two other times, and lost two others by one run.
But that’s not five starts or six. It’s more than two months of starts.
He looks confident on the mound. He should be confident on the mound, considering the stuff he has, and as the Tigers look forward, not back, they can believe that Laird is correct when he says Scherzer “is going to win a ton of games.
Heck, there was some thought he might even have had enough left in his tank to go back out for the 10th inning, but “I knew I wasn’t going to win that battle,” Scherzer said. “But it never feels right when your team doesn’t come away with a win.”What cost the Tigers was the inability to take advantage of second-and-third chance with one out in the third. Jackson took a called third strike and Will Rhymes grounded out.
“We talk about that all the time,” manager Jim Leyland said. “RBI situations, young players, they have a tough time with that. It takes time.”
Leyland is fully aware of what he has in Scherzer, though.
“You can’t pitch any better than that,” he said. “He has a tremendous mound presence. It’s a shame he didn’t get a win in nine innings.
“They finally got a big hit, we just couldn’t get any. It was a great game we didn’t win.
“But we also got doubled off first base twice. You have to execute up here.”
Or as Laird said, “these are the games you have to win to get over the hump.”