The Detroit Tigers are all over the 2017 MLB Playoffs -- sort of. This year’s team flamed out with almost 100 losses, but that doesn’t mean a bunch of Bengal alumni can’t play a critical role in the October drama to come.
If only the Tigers could have found a way to keep all these players in Motown.
Justin Verlander (Houston Astros)
After a relatively uneven first five months with the Tigers (10-8, 3.82 ERA), there were many that thought all the ace needed was a change of scenery to a playoff-bound club. It turns out that has been precisely the case. JV has pitched six times in a Houston Astros uniform, and he’s come out as the victor in every last one of them, including the opening game against Boston in the ALDS.
The ‘Stros now look like the favorite in the American League, with their offense crushing the ball on a daily basis and Verlander practically guaranteeing a W every time he takes the hill. If things continue to go swimmingly in Houston, he’ll get that long-awaited opportunity for World Series redemption. Remember, his last Fall Classic outing was a nightmare outing where Pablo Sandoval took JV deep twice (added a third later) and he was out-pitched by Barry Zito’s corpse.
J.D. Martinez (Arizona Diamondbacks)
The numbers that J.D. Martinez put up this year are straight out of a video game. He missed 45 games and walloped 45 home runs. In just a little over two months in Arizona, he bashed 29 of them. If he was healthy for the full campaign, there’s a good chance he would have hit 60 bombs.
It’s no surprise that in the D’backs playoff opener against LA, J.D. rapped out three hits in four at bats, including a dinger against future first-ballot hall of famer Clayton Kershaw. Whether or not the Diamondbacks can find a way to come back and knock off the near-unbeatable Dodgers (104-58), Martinez’s offensive season will stand as of one of the most explosive in recent memory.
Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals)
The Nats are perennial postseason disappointments, but there was a pervading thought that this year’s squad could be different. The lineup was loaded and the rotation was spearheaded by Mad Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. But as per usual, the power players in Washington seemed to have made promises in the regular season that they had no intention of keeping in the playoffs.
Scherzer aggravated his hammy on the final weekend of the year and will not appear until Game 3 against the defending champion Cubbies. By then, the Nationals might already be in a serious hole. Scherzer enjoyed another dominant summer, going 16-6 and leading the NL with 268 strikeouts. But his effect on this postseason could wind up being much more of a whimper than a roar.
Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, David Price (Boston Red Sox)
The 2017 Sox look like a cheap imitation of the various Tigers’ rosters from 2011-14. And while this trio might have once resembled a pretty potent group, right now they look like anything but. Price made just 11 starts this year and will likely be a reliever only in these playoffs. That’s probably a good thing anyway when you remember that he’s made nine career postseason starts and his team has come out on the losing end every single time. Price did enjoy a clean outing in a lopsided Game 2 loss to Houston, recording eight outs and allowing just a hit and a walk.
Porcello had one of the worst Cy Young follow-up seasons in the game’s history. After going 22-4 in 2016 and besting Verlander during awards season, Porcello registered a ghastly 11-17 mark while allowing 38 homers, the most of any pitcher in baseball. He was so ineffective throughout the year that with Boston facing a must-win situation back at Fenway on Sunday, they will turn to . . .
Doug Fister. Yes, the same Doug Fister that was pitching in the minors earlier this year and who the Red Sox picked up off waivers back in June. Dougie Fresh is not exactly the most threatening pitcher to send to the mound in a do-or-die playoff game, but he still has very good control and did go on about a month-long tear with the Sox late this summer. Still, it must be a blow to the ego of Porcello that one year after being named the American League’s best pitcher, he’s been shoved aside by a former Tiger mate that wasn’t even a big leaguer to start this season. Ouch.
Rajai Davis (Boston Red Sox)
He was on top of the baseball world after his monumental home run in Game 7 of last year’s World Series. Unfortunately, he was unable to capitalize on that momentum, meandering through a mostly listless year with Oakland before hopping over to Boston for their stretch run.
He’s on the Red Sox playoff roster, but has only played a couple of innings as a defensive replacement. With Mookie Betts injuring his wrist late in Game 2, Davis could get a spot start when the series shifts back to Beantown.
Dave Dombrowski (Boston Red Sox)
David Price...Rick Porcello...Doug Fister...Rajai Davis.
It’s nice to see Dombrowski really venturing out of his comfort zone and acquiring players he’s never employed before.
Austin Jackson (Cleveland Indians)
The formerly fleet-footed Tigers center fielder was on his way to baseball irrelevance after bouncing around to five different teams in just four years.
But somehow he found his way to Cleveland, grew a grizzled-veteran playoff beard, and became an October hero for the Indians. He was the hero in Friday night’s wild 9-8 victory over the Yankees, drawing a walk, stealing a base, and eventually coming around to score the game-winning run in the 13th inning. If you would have predicted before this season that Austin Jackson was going to hit .318 and play an integral role for one of baseball’s best teams, you would likely have been told to stop pretending it’s 2010 and come join the real world. But alas, this is the present day and A-Jax (an all-time lame nickname) is a genuine playoff X-factor. And speaking of former Tigers’ center fielders…
Curtis Granderson (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The Grandy Man is officially in his baseball golden years at 36, but he’s still a legitimate long ball threat (26 HR) who has been through many October wars (52 playoff games).
He got the Game 1 start in leftfield for the juggernaut Dodgers. The boys in blue exploded for nine runs in the opener, but Granderson was invisible, going hitless in four trips to the plate with a pair of whiffs. With Arizona set to throw one of the league’s toughest lefty hurlers tonight, it’ll almost assuredly be pinch-hitting only for Curtis. And that southpaw in question will be...
Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Back in December 2014, the Tigers, Yankees, and D’backs got together on a little three-team swap. The Tigers would get Shane Greene, a blossoming righty (at the time) that hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in Detroit. The Yanks would get Didi Gregorius, now one of the AL’s most dynamic shortstops (25 HR, 87 RBI, .287 BA). And Arizona would receive from the Tigers young Robbie Ray, a lefthander with virtually no track record of success in the majors. All that has changed now. Ray just put a bow on a superb 2017 campaign, going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and a healthy 218 strikeouts. For a Tigers organization now thirsting for quality starting pitching, this trade really stings.
Fernando Rodney (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Old Fernando Rodney is still finding a way to get big league hitters out with that Bugs Bunny changeup, or as Jim Price used to always call it, his "trick pitch." Rodney, the rare 40-year-old closer, just registered a 39-save season for the Snakes. The 4.23 ERA is not exactly Mariano-esque, but the 65/26 K/BB ratio will play just fine in late-game situations. Fun stat: Rodney pitched with only one team (Tigers) in the first eight years of his career. He's zig-zagged to seven clubs in the eight seasons since.
Andrew Miller (Cleveland Indians)
While the main storyline of this year's MLB season was the ridiculous amount of home runs being socked (an all-time league high), the emphasis during the chill of October usually shifts down to the bullpen. And there's really nobody better than onetime Tiger 1st-round selection, Andrew Miller. The Tribe lefty blew away 95 hitters this season, a huge total for a relief pitcher. MLB Network recently put together a list of the top bullpen arms in the league, and Miller came in right at the top. If Cleveland somehow finds a way to capture their first World Series title since 1948, it'd be no surprise at all if Miller were the one cradling the MVP trophy in that champagne-soaked locker room.
Alex Avila and Justin Wilson (Chicago Cubs)
The Cubs look like real contenders to be the first back-to-back champs from the NL since the Big Red Machine in the mid-70’s, but these two might not have a whole lot to do with it. Avila is exclusively a backup to Willson Contreras behind the plate, and Justin Wilson made the Cubs’ postseason roster by the slimmest of margins. The last spot among the relievers was thought to be going to Hector Rondon, a Cubs bullpen mainstay that appeared in 61 games this year. But when it came time to make the call, Joe Maddon looked to Wilson’s mastery of Nats’ slugger Daniel Murphy (retired him all six times with three Ks) as the impetus to include the former Tiger flamethrower on the roster. Wilson has been underwhelming in his time with the North Side Nine, but if you’re a warm-blooded male and throw baseballs with your left arm, the big leagues will generally make room for you.
Cameron Maybin (Houston Astros)
Many Tiger fans were confused when Al Avila dealt Maybin to Anaheim last off-season for a bag of balls and a side of rice pilaf.
And while he didn’t exactly set the world on fire out west, he proved himself valuable enough (6 HR, 29 SB) to entice the playoff-bound Astros to scoop him up for their title chase. Maybin got one turn at bat in the first two games and will likely be used exclusively as a bench option throughout the Astros' championship chase.