New York Mets manager Buck Showalter, seeking his first World Series appearance, has the estimable advantage of having potential Hall of Famers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at the top of his rotation. Jim Leyland had that advantage for four years with the Detroit Tigers when those two-star right-handers were at the helm of his rotation.
“Those are a couple of horses right there,” said Leyland. “It doesn’t get much better than those two.”
In those four seasons (2010-13), Verlander was 72-34 and Scherzer was 64-30, with each having a monster 20-win season. Verlander was 24-5 in 2011 and Scherzer 21-3 in 2013.
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The Detroit Tigers made the World Series in 2012 before their bats were silenced by the San Francisco Giants, who won four games in succession. In the 2013 American League Championship Series, the Tigers had a 1-0 lead in games against eventual World Series champion Boston and Scherzer had fanned 13 and had allowed just two hits over seven innings and held a 5-1 lead over the Red Sox.
But Boston rallied for four runs off the bullpen in the eighth to pull out a 6-5 win that turned the series around, with Verlander being blanked 1-0 in Game 3. The Red Sox ultimately won in six games what Leyland considered his best team in the eight seasons he managed the Tigers.
Jim Leyland: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander can have long futures with New York Mets
Though it was a decade ago, Leyland feels Verlander, now 40, and Scherzer, 38, basically are as good as they ever were.
“Both of them have got real strong lower legs,” Leyland said. “A lot of those great pitchers — like (Tom) Seaver, (Roger) Clemens and Nolan Ryan all had real strong thigh and calf muscles. That’s what given them a lot of their power and that’s what it’s done for these guys.”
Longevity was a byproduct. Seaver pitched until he was 41, Clemens until he was 44, and Ryan until he was 46.
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Besides their good trunks, Leyland said Verlander and Scherzer “both have great knowledge. They know what they’re doing and they know where to throw the ball. Their control got better over the years. They always had great stuff and were great pitchers but hitters’ weaknesses have been more exposed in later years and those guys can pitch to those weaknesses.
“Both those guys can make you look bad. I think Verlander can pitch till he’s 45. Scherzer has had some nagging injuries lately so . . . I don’t know how long Scherzer wants to go, but I know Verlander wants to go that long.
“I don’t know any reason why that couldn’t happen. They’ve both kept themselves in great shape. They go through a certain regimen. They do the same thing all the time in their preparation. I know Verlander is older but some of those guys come back stronger after Tommy John surgery . . . and he won the Cy Young (Award) last year.
“Those two were really something — and they still are. They were great when I had them and they’re still great. It’s not just luck. You hear people talk about guys ‘knowing how to pitch, that they move the ball around and change speeds.’ Well, these guys have great stuff — electric stuff —and they also know how to pitch.”
Verlander worked at least 218 1/3 innings in each of the past four years he and Scherzer were together in Detroit and as many as 251. Scherzer exceeded 200 innings once in those four years and averaged over 190 innings in the other three years.
“I pitched them a lot,” said Leyland, “and I can remember guys saying, ‘Maybe you pitched them too much.’ But pitchers are supposed to pitch. And they’re still pitching, making $43 million a year. I couldn’t have pitched them too damn much.
“And we’re in more of a strikeout age than we ever were before. That plays right into their hands. They’re something special.”
Rick Hummel, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for baseball writing, is the baseball columnist for Sportsnaut.