The Tigers have Justin Verlander starting this afternoon, and they need desperately for him be Justin Verlander deep into the evening and perhaps into the night. The Tigers possess no other advantage than Verlander today as they face elimination, but the best pitcher in baseball is a hell of an advantage.
If and when Verlander leaves the game – presumably after his pitch resembles the temperature at which you would cook a roast – the Tigers will be overwhelmed by the Rangers, on paper, in every conceivable situation that Miguel Cabrera is standing somewhere other than the batter’s box.
The Tigers’ back-end bullpen combination of Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, who despite Valverde’s 11th-inning implosion yesterday have been outstanding this postseason, will not be available, Jim Leyland said. Leyland hopes he can get through Game 5 with Verlander and Phil Coke.
The Tigers’ lineup is bruised and broken. Delmon Young has played through an oblique strain and Victor Martinez has a ribcage muscle strain, and neither can afford to rest because Magglio Ordonez broke his ankle. Meanwhile, catcher Alex Avila, batting .061 in the postseason, may be hurting worse than all of them with a swollen knee. Why’s he still catching? If not him, it would be Martinez or glorified minor leaguer Omir Santos.
Meantime, the Rangers have Nelson Cruz, who at times can play like one of the very best in the world, batting seventh. Seventh! He’s hit four home runs this series and has seven RBIs … in the 11th inning. Cruz has 18 extra-base hits in 24 career playoff games, which ties him with Lou Gehrig for the most in one’s first 24 postseason games. Again, Nelson Cruz hits seventh for the Rangers.
The Tigers are bruised and desperate, but they do have Verlander and a grizzled, resolute manager who is not ready for the season to end.
“This is not over yet,” Leyland said. “Trust me.”