The Detroit Tigers will start this postseason just like last year's: Max Scherzer in Game 1, Justin Verlander in Game 2.
Manager Brad Ausmus announced the team's rotation for its AL Division Series, which begins Thursday at Baltimore. Scherzer also started Detroit's postseason opener last year, not long before he was voted the American League's Cy Young Award winner. The right-hander went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA this season.
"He's been our best pitcher," Ausmus said.
The Tigers have the AL's last three Cy Young winners in Scherzer, David Price and Verlander. Price (15-12) will start Game 3 in Detroit on Sunday, with Porcello (15-13) slated for Game 4.
It was a tough year for Verlander, who finished 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA, but his last couple starts were encouraging. He started Game 2 of last year's ALDS against Oakland, then returned to shut down the Athletics in the decisive Game 5.
Detroit has reached the AL Championship Series the last three years, and the Tigers won the pennant in 2012. They owe much of their postseason success to their starting pitching. Detroit's starters have posted a 2.12 ERA over the last two postseasons, holding opponents to a .191 average.
But that wasn't enough to win the franchise's first World Series title since 1984.
"Generally speaking, pitching can make the difference, but you just don't know how it plays out," said Ausmus, who is in his first season as Detroit's manager. "Usually you feel like the pitching makes the difference, but then you have a game that's 12-10. We feel good about, obviously, our starting staff going in, but the bottom line is you don't know how the games are going to go."
A star-studded rotation may appear to look great, but it's no guarantee of success over a small period of time. That was already clear during the regular season. Detroit looked like a heavy favorite in the AL Central after acquiring Price from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, but the starting rotation didn't exactly dominate, posting a 3.97 ERA since Aug. 1. Injuries and spot starts inflated that figure a bit, but even standouts like Scherzer and Price had their share of shaky outings.
The Tigers won the division anyway, with Price pitching brilliantly on the regular season's final day to help wrap up first place. Now Detroit returns to familiar ground in the playoffs. The Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals are the only teams making a fourth straight postseason appearance this year.
Scherzer, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter are among the Detroit players who can become free agents after this season, so it's fair to wonder how much longer this group has to try to win a World Series — although the Tigers have been willing to spend big in recent years under owner Mike Ilitch.
"It's tough when you see your friends, whether they're going or not, you don't know," Verlander said. "But we're focused on one task right now and that's to win a World Series, and what happens next year, happens next year."
The last three times Detroit was in the ALDS, the Tigers advanced by winning Game 5 on the road. Verlander pitched the last two of those winner-take-all victories, holding Oakland without a run both times.
"The ultimate goal is to win it all. I've got a lot of cherished memories and some bitter ones too," Verlander said. "Hopefully this is the year. It's not going to be easy, it never is. We're playing real good competition, but I like the way this team's built. I like the way we had to battle through adversity this year and I like the way we're set up."
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