The Detroit Tigers, fueled by the strikeout arms of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, are trying to win a World Series with a pitching achievement not seen since Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale carried the Los Angeles Dodgers to the championship in 1963.
After dismantling the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees in the American League playoffs, the Tigers are the third team to reach Major League Baseball’s championship round in the last 49 years to average more than a strikeout an inning.
Verlander, the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, starts for the Tigers tonight in Game 1 of the best-of-seven World Series in San Francisco against the Giants. The Tigers’ pitching staff, which has a 1.74 postseason earned run average, is the biggest reason Detroit is favored by oddsmakers to win its first title since 1984.
“The Tigers are bringing in a rotation that’s not only throwing well, but they’re on a confidence high,” ESPN baseball analyst Orel Hershiser, the 1988 World Series MVP, said on a conference call. “They just carried this team.”
Verlander, a 29-year-old right-hander, has led the way, with a 3-0 record, a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. Scherzer has fanned 18 in 11 postseason innings while logging a 0.82 ERA, and Doug Fister has 13 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings with a 1.35 ERA. Anibal Sanchez also has a 1.35 ERA in two playoff starts, with 10 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
“There’s depth there, and the fact that they’re all lined up gives them a huge advantage,” MLB Network analyst Al Leiter said of the Tigers, who have had five days off since completing a four-game sweep of the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Because the Giants had to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the NL Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong will probably be unavailable for the first two games. Barry Zito will start tonight’s opening game for San Francisco, which has a 3.87 postseason ERA.
Detroit held the Yankees to a .157 batting average in the ALCS, with 36 strikeouts. The Tigers’ pitching is “just mowing people down,” Hershiser said, with an average of 9.36 strikeouts per nine innings.
“The strikeout is a huge, huge weapon,” Hershiser said. “Any time you can make the opposing team have to go to the dugout without moving a runner up 90 feet, and you can do that up to the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, you have a huge advantage in the game.”
The odds of Las Vegas bookmakers suggest a 62 percent chance Detroit wins the World Series. Detroit is listed as the - 170 money line favorites, meaning a bettor would have to wager $170 to win $100, while the Giants are +150.
The last team in the World Series to average more than a strikeout an inning in the playoffs was the 2010 Texas Rangers. That club lost in five games to the Giants.
The last team to win the World Series averaging more than a strikeout an inning in the postseason was the 1963 Dodgers, as Koufax and Drysdale combined for 32 strikeouts over 27 innings in a four-game sweep of the Yankees.
“There is no other environment where a walk is a rally, except October,” said ESPN analyst Curt Schilling, who was the 2001 World Series MVP for Arizona after striking out 26 Yankees batters in 21 1/3 innings. “Somebody gets a base runner on, and you immediately think of the potential. When you can strike hitters out at a higher rate, you negate the potential leadoff walk as a weapon.”
The Giants had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the major leagues this season at 17.7 percent. They also ranked sixth with a ground-ball rate of 46.5 percent, meaning they may test a Detroit defense that had the 11th-most errors in the league during the regular season.
In addition, the Giants allowed only one run in winning the final three games of the NLCS.
“I know what a great club they are,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Detroit. “And we know all about the guy we’re going to be facing in the opener and their whole staff. They swept the Yankees, that tells you how good they are.”
This is the fourth World Series meeting between a team coming off a sweep and a club that was pushed to a decisive seventh game. In the previous three, the team that played Game 7 in the LCS won the World Series, including the Cardinals win over Detroit in 2006.
“It’s different when you’re taking batting practice every day than when you’re playing NLCS games down to the last game,” Zito said. “Our nerves are at the height of how they can be right now. But don’t sleep on these guys. We’re not taking anything for granted at this point.”