Reports of Justin Verlander‘s demise were grossly overstated. You know this and I know this. Anyone who claims Justin Verlander had a down year in 2013 is selling something. Sure, he didn’t match the numbers he put up during seasons in which he first won the Cy Young award and then finished second in the voting, but he is still one of the ten best starters in baseball. He threw a lot of innings and struck out 200 more batters. Par for the course.
In the NBA, there seems to be a tacit understanding that it isn’t neccesary for a player to give their all every night. San Antonio Spurs coach/maestro Gregg Popovich is famous for strategically resting his star players during the regular season with an eye towards the long playoff journey. Baseball doesn’t tend to work this way thanks to current league model of making the regular season “not a total waste of time and space.” It’s hard to earn a playoff berth in baseball. The margin for error is slight enough that taking games or weeks off can undo six months of work.
I don’t know that I can connect the two paragraphs above effectively, but it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility to suggest Justin Verlander “saved” himself for the postseason. Stranger things have happened. To folks like you and me and Rob Neyer, it looks an awful lot like Justin Verlander flipped a switch when the calender flipped to September – even if we know it isn’t exactly true. It’s unlikely he did anything differently, things just worked out a little better for him against worse competition. Then again, if anybody could pull off “changing gears” midseason, it’s Justin Verlander.
Across two starts versus the A’s in the Division Series, Justin Verlander looked every bit the best pitcher in the league. He struck out batters at will and basically allowed no base runners. 15 innings, 21 strikeouts, two walks, six hits, zero runs allowed. Nobody just decides to be that good but the Tigers are still playing today because Justin Verlander mowed down the Oakland A’s.