Justin Verlander pitches Tigers past A’s and into ALCS

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Way too much Justin Verlander.

Detroit’s ace held down the A’s for the second time in five games Thursday, pitching a complete-game shutout and striking out 11 as the Tigers won 6-0 to move on to the ALCS.

Verlander fanned 22 in his two starts, setting a new record for strikeouts in a Divisional Series. The previous record of 21 was shared by Kevin Brown and Cliff Lee.

It was the first complete-game win for a Tigers starter in the postseason since Jack Morris completed Game 4 of the 1984 World Series.

The A’s were able to keep it close for six innings tonight, with the Tigers getting their lone two runs in the third after Austin Jackson doubled in Omar Infante and came around to score on a wild pitch.

The Tigers’ four-run seventh that settled the matter. A’s starter Jarrod Parker exited with runners on the corners and one out. Ryan Cook came in and failed to retire any of the three batters he faced, making it a 4-0 game. The Tigers got two more runs after Cook left, the first on an RBI single and the second on a Stephen Drew error.

While they were far more concerned about their own fate, the Tigers got good news from the other ALDS in the form of the Orioles’ win over the Yankees tonight. It means they still could have home-field advantage in the ALCS of Baltimore can prevail again in Game 5. And if the Yankees win instead, at least CC Sabathia will be burnt instead of getting the Game 1 start. The Tigers figure to use Doug Fister in Game 1, Max Scherzer in Game 2, Verlander in Game 3 and Anibal Sanchez in Game 4 of the ALCS.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.