DETROIT — It seems bizarre to even type the words, but is it possible that Justin Verlander isn’t the best pitcher in Detroit right now?
Since July 1, Verlander is 4-2 in nine starts. In 67 innings, he’s allowed 51 hits, struck out 71 and posted a 2.15 ERA. That’s an ace on any team, and it’s justifiably put him in contention for a second straight Cy Young Award.
But there’s another pitcher in the same clubhouse who is putting up some eye-popping numbers of his own. In the same stretch, Max Scherzer has made 10 starts with a 7-1 record. In his 64 1/3 innings, he’s given up 58 hits, struck out 80 batters and posted a 2.94 ERA.
Verlander probably has a slight edge, but after Scherzer shut down the Angels on Sunday, he now leads the Tigers in wins (14) and strikeouts (195). He and Verlander (192) are on pace to become the first teammates to lead the majors in strikeouts since Kerry Wood and Mark Prior of the 2003 Chicago Cubs.
“The strikeouts don’t matter,” Scherzer said. “There’s only one thing that matters — the Tigers in the playoffs. That’s it.”
Sunday, he stepped up once again just when the Tigers needed him. With Detroit struggling to solve Ervin Santana, Scherzer allowed one run in seven innings, striking out nine. That allowed the Tigers to win a series against a team they could easily see again in October.
“These aren’t must-win games right now, but they are must-win series,” Scherzer said. “If we keep coming out here and winning series, we’re going to be in the postseason. It is as simple as that.”
He’s now the first Tigers pitcher to strike out at least eight batters in eight straight starts since World War I.
“I think he’s figured out what he can do and what kind of pitcher he is,” said Gerald Laird, who caught Scherzer against the Angels. “He’s definitely got one of the top-two fastballs in the league right now, and once he established that, you could see all of the bad swings they took on the changeup and slider. He made my day easy today.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher himself, agreed with Avila.
“He’s got a tremendous arm, and he builds everything off his fastball,” Scioscia said. “You have to be expecting the fastball, but he’s got a decent changeup and he can throw a breaking ball whenever he needs one.
“With that arm, and the deception in his motion, you just have to hope your guy can match him pitch for pitch.”
Scherzer’s strong second half has come in a season where Detroit’s No. 2 pitcher, Doug Fister, has struggled with injuries. If Fister can overcome his current groin problem and pitch anywhere near his best, the Tigers will have the best 1-2-3 punch in the American League down the stretch.
“I’m not worried about my results right now — I’m worried about my stuff,” Scherzer said. “That’s the thing I’ve learned. If you forget about the results, the only thing left to focus on is the next start.
“I’ll make a couple adjustments based on today, and I’m confident that I can pitch deep into the next game and give us a chance to win.”