Before I get into how awesome Jason Verlander is, let me throw out a congratulations to my alma mater. They won the NCAC outdoor track championship yesterday, and shattered the conference records for points in the championship meet. Not too shabby. They won the indoor championship a few months ago, too. I don't know how all these championships are affecting academics, but it sure looks nice on the sports page.
Now, you may have saw Jason Verlander threw his second no-hitter this weekend, just a walk off a perfect game. I truly believe Verlander will get a perfect game before he's done, and I would probably argue that he's the best pitcher going today and of this generation. He loves going the distance, which is always an admirable trait. The dude will light up triple digits in the ninth inning, and then drop a nasty, ought-to-be-illegal breaking ball the next pitch. He is an insane competitor, but has the unfortunate luck to play for the Tigers. Now, the Tigers are almost unimaginably better than they were in the late '90's, early 2000's. Those teams were pushing for worst record of all time. But, the Tigers are one of those teams that are always good, but not that good. They did make a run to the World Series in '06, but ran up against Pujols' destiny. True, that Cardinal team only won 83 games to Detroit's 95. But Detroit was a wild card that year, finishing a game back of Minnesota. But that was (obviously) a very, very good Cardinal team that was much better than its record would indicate. This post isn't about St. Louis, though.
Detroit's 2006 run started off by dismissing the Yankees in four games by a combined score of 30-14. They then swept Oakland, the closest games being a pair of three-run wins in California. The Cardinals, on the other hand, did take care of business against San Diego, but played one of the craziest NLCSes in recent history against the Mets and pulled it out in 7. If people thought the Tigers were the better team, I wouldn't necessarily blame them. But I could tell you as somebody who pays a lot of attention to the Cardinals that they had the better roster in my mind. And it showed pretty quickly as Detroit totally forgot to bring their defense back from the golden west. Plus, Verlander was a rookie, and it showed in that World Series. He may have been the Rookie of the Year, but Reyes was the rookie stud in game one. Game five was no different, Verlander throwing wild pitches and contributing to the defensive problems by throwing into left field instead of third base.
Even with all that, it was pretty clear Verlander was going to be something. He was a ROY and second pick in the draft. And he has certainly pitched like that kind of stud. Two no hitters, absolutely filthy stuff, and no sign of slowing down. If the Tigers can ever claw their way back to the post season, they are going to be so dangerous just because of Verlander. They've got some other pitchers, too, but he is the clear ace. He is about the only pitcher that makes me react out loud with the ungodly breaking stuff he throws. I feel so bad for hitters when all they can do is watch that one explode across the plate. There is nothing you can do when he has his A-game, which is most of the time. He may be the only pitcher (certainly today) I would have no problem believing he could average a no-hitter every year for the rest of his career. Maybe two a year. I'm surprised it hasn't happened more.
Alas, for poor Verlander, his Tigers have played in the same division as the Twins and White Sox. The Tigers, while a very good team, have just not been quite as talented for the past several years. With those two teams off to a slow start, this could be the Tigers year. But the Tigers have had problems of their own, stumbling off to a 17-18 start. A lot better than the Twins and Sox 12 and 13 win starts, respectively, but certainly not as good as the surprise Indians 22 win campaign so far. Should Cleveland fade, as many expect (I'm undecided at this point), it seems the Tigers are in prime position to take advantage, as Kansas City has already started to come back to reality.*
*Of course, I don't think KC has brought up their stellar prospects yet, either, so they may be in for a midsummer surge.
Verlander is only 3-3 to this point, but looking at pitchers' records is so old fashioned. Instead we can look at his 3.18 ERA, which is solid. Not lighting the world on fire, but solid. He's already thrown two complete games, which is awesome for this era. He has walked quite a few, but that's been his MO. You can't uncork that kind of otherworldly stuff and always have it go over the plate. Related to that, he's already struck out 55 in 57 innings. That's a pretty darned good ratio, and I actually expect it to get better. His WHIP* is 0.98. That means he averages a 1-2-3 inning. If the Tigers can right the rest of the ship and get into October, I have no problem seeing Verlander putting the team on his back as often as he needs to and get back to the World Series. That's a big if.
*For the uninitiated, that's Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched. There's a substantial number of the stat-minded that think this is the most important pitching stat. Or maybe they just think talking about WHIP makes them sound smart, I don't know.
Okay, that's enough for today. I just get so impressed with Verlander I have to spout some man-love now and then. But, if he never gets a World Series ring, I have a hard time blaming him and I will be downright shocked if he doesn't get into the Hall of Fame comfortably.