To describe Justin Verlander in one word is a challenge, but a workable challenge. Words come to mind like “amazing”, “awesome”, “unbeatable”, and “unbelievable”.
But the most descriptive word for JV has to be “dominant”.
Justin Verlander is a dominating pitcher. If you didn’t think so before, then last night should have confirmed it. He clearly didn’t have his best stuff against the Yankees in Game Three of the ALCS. He only struck out three batters. He threw a first pitch strike to only half the hitters he faced (14 of 28). He was behind in the count all night long.
Yet at the end of the day, Verlander didn’t walk a single batter. Through eight innings he was throwing a two-hit shutout. He wound up going 8.1 innings, allowing three hits and one run. He lowered is postseason ERA to 0.74, and is now 3-0 with a 0.62 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in the playoffs.
When Justin Verlander goes to the mound to pitch, you pay attention. When Justin Verlander goes to the mound to pitch, he gives you the feeling that you are not going to lose that day. He has an aura of invincibility around him.
And why not? He allowed five or more earned runs in a start only three times in the entire regular season (33 starts). He allowed three earned runs or less 26 times. Twenty. Six. Wow.
Only twice in 2012 did he fail to complete six full innings. Again – dominant.
All of which makes me long for the days of having that kind of dominance on the hill for the Toronto Blue Jays – especially sitting through the hell that was 2012. For comparison sakes, let’s compare our ace Ricky Romero against Verlander.
Romero allowed five or more earned runs in a game eight times last season, and he allowed three or less 17 times. That is a total of nine fewer “good” games, and five more “bad” games, for a total – obviously – of 14 starts. 14 starts makes up just under half a season for a starter. That is not good. Not good at all.
In fact, though Romero had a nice 2011 campaign, the Jays haven’t had what can be called a dominant starter since 2009, the last year that Roy Halladay was a Blue Jay. This drought has ended a nice run of having a dependable, front line starter. In 1980 Dave Stieb made his first All-Star team, and he lasted as a truly dominant ace right up until 1990. He gave way to a few years lead by Juan Guzman and Pat Hentgen, who in turn gave way to Roger Clemens, who then a few years later, gave way to Halladay.
Then Halladay left, and we as fans are left waiting for the next ace to step up.
We thought it would be Kyle Drabek, but that hasn’t worked out.
We thought it would be Brandon Morrow, and though it may still be, injury and inconsistency have ruled him out.
We thought it would be Ricky Romero, but he regressed badly.
Yes there are some promising arms in the low minors, but they are several years away from making a big league impact.
If you look at the teams that made the playoffs, most of them have that one dominant starter that helped them get there: Verlander, CC Sabathia, Matt Cain, Chris Carpenter, Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg. Look back to last year and you can include David Price, Cliff Lee, and Zack Greinke. While pitch counts and specialized bullpens might limit the importance and impact of an ace starter in the postseason (gone are the days of a guy pitching games 1, 4, and 7) it is almost mandatory that a team has one of those guys to make the playoffs. Unless you’re Baltimore and you can win with smoke and mirrors…
The bottom line is that Alex Anthopoulos has stated that upgrading the rotation is a top offseason priority. A noble thought, but front line, dominant starters aren’t commodities that are simply available. So unless one of Toronto’s young arms evolves into the next Verlander, or Price, or Weaver, or Strasburg, or Cain, then the Jays could be in baseball purgatory for a while.