In the Motor City, baseball has never been their forte. The Detroit Tigers have not won a World Series title since 1984, as the team has accumulated some horrific seasons, as well as some promising ones, however, one commonality has been the inability to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy. The Tigers have endured a lot since their last championship including a historically poor 2003 season when Detroit finished with 119 losses. Despite all the hardships, this franchise has been able to put together some talented rosters, and there is no better example of that then their 2014 team. Specifically, a rotation that looked impeccable on the outside.
Over the past two decades, the Tigers have been able to win two AL Pennants (2006, 2012), however, in both situations they were dominated by their National League counterpart. Whether it be lack of pitching or hitters going cold, the Tigers have not been able to close the deal. Entering 2014, Detroit had an offense that consisted of reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, future All-Star J.D. Martinez, and switch-hitting DH Victor Martinez, who was a career .300 batter. They were offensively prepared to take the AL Central, but it was their starting pitching that was the real gem.
Their longest tenured player and arguably the face of the franchise, Justin Verlander, was looking to return to his MVP form after a subpar season for his standards. Just three years prior, Verlander had earned himself a Cy Young and he became the first pitcher to win MVP since closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992. In both 2011 and 2012, he had a sub 3.00 ERA, while he had a 3.46 ERA in 2013. With plenty left in the tank, he expected another big season in 2014.
One of Verlander’s specialties throughout his career has been his ability to finish games and ramp it up during the latter stretch. For instance, he has shown on countless occasions that he will save his energy early on to increase his velocity in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. That is the niche that comes with Verlander, and with his MVP days behind him, he was hoping to channel that inner flare to ignite another successful season.
The new ace in Detroit was the reigning Cy Young Winner Max Scherzer. He was coming off his best season, where he held a 2.90 ERA and a 21-3 record. Scherzer had never been a frontline starter prior to his 2013 campaign, but with new hardware to his ledger, he was expected to take off as one of the game’s best.
While rising up the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, their organization struggled to believe in his full potential because of his unorthodox delivery. To add on, Scherzer did not have the greatest second season with them, which was his first full season as a starter. This resulted in him being dealt to Detroit in the Curtis Granderson trade as Arizona did not trust his durability with his current mechanics. Scherzer bewildered baseball with the level he dominated at and the injury concerns that the Diamondbacks had would never come into play while he was a member of the Tigers.
One of Scherzer’s biggest competitors during the 2013 AL Cy Young race was teammate Aníbal Sánchez. The long-time Florida Marlin pitcher had led the American League in earned run average with a 2.57 ERA. Besting pitchers like Yu Darvish, Chris Sale, and his teammate Scherzer for the ERA title is no easy feat, but Sánchez was able to find a way. Detroit was not expecting another season as stellar as the previous, but Sánchez was envisioned to pitch another quality season.
Rick Porcello had never been anything special with Detroit, as he was a middle of the rotation pitcher whose main role was to keep the Tigers in games. He ate up innings and gave the team enough quality starts where their offense would be able to keep games close. The major success that Porcello would accomplish happened after he departed the city, but Detroit did not foresee this potential.
The final piece to the puzzle that seemingly put the Tigers rotation into a new tier was the mid-season acquisition of David Price. The 2012 Cy Young award winner was still a formidable ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Price being a southpaw also gave opposing hitters an alternate view with Detroit having a predominantly right-handed rotation. With the Tigers adding one of the premier arms in the American League, their rotation became even more lethal.
By the end of the 2014 regular season, the Tigers were NL Central champs and ready to face the Baltimore Orioles in the Division Series. Their rotation consisted of the previous three Cy Young Award winners with Verlander (2011), Price (2012), and Scherzer (2013) fore fronting their rotation. In the postseason, with more off days and less games, a pitching staff at that caliber should seemingly guarantee victory every time out. Not to mention Sánchez and Porcello at the backend of the rotation. However, despite all the hype around the rotation, Detroit was swept out of the playoffs with each Cy Young pitcher being on the losing side of a game. All those expectations and they get eliminated in three games.
After the season, the pitching staff would begin to deplete. Scherzer and Porcello would sign and get traded elsewhere during the offseason. Price would get traded to Toronto in 2015 to help their playoff push. While Verlander would get dealt to Houston in 2017, and Sanchez would leave in free agency after that season. What is truly astonishing is the amount of success that all these players would find after departing from Detroit.
Verlander would have a career resurgence when he joined the Houston Astros. He was a man on a mission when he arrived, as he pitched at a higher level than his prime MVP form. In his five regular season starts for the Astros in 2017, he was 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA. And when the postseason came around, Verlander continued his incredible play by pitching to a 2.21 ERA in six postseason games, which included a complete game five-hitter against the New York Yankees.
The new Houston ace was one of the main catalysts in the Astros winning the World Series that season. Over the next two seasons, he would not deteriorate either, as Verlander would return to All-Star form and in 2019 he would earn himself his second Cy Young Award.
In 2015, Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals, one of the greatest career decisions he could have ever made. He had turned down a six-year/$144 million contract extension offer from Detroit because he believed he was worth more and in free agency he signed for a whopping seven-year/$210 million with Washington. From 2015-2019, Scherzer would always be named an All-Star, top three in strikeouts, and top ten in ERA, WHIP, and opponent batting average, which all culminated in him winning back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2016 and 2017. In 2019, he helped the Nationals win their first World Series title. One of his teammates was Aníbal Sánchez.
When David Price was traded to Toronto, he looked like his Cy Young self, however, they did not keep him, though his fantastic pitching helped him earn a massive $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Price would never pitch too spectacularly for Boston, but he did have a sub 4.00 ERA in his first three seasons with the team and capped it off with a 2018 World Series victory. His Boston teammate that may have even surpassed him as a pitcher was Rick Porcello.
In December of 2014, Porcello was traded to Boston in a deal that involved Yoenis Cespedes. After a rough first season at Fenway, Porcello would take off in 2016. He was 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA which helped earn him the 2016 AL Cy Young. This season helped establish Porcello as more than just an innings eater and gave his name newfound respect and value. The infamous season may have only been a one hit wonder, but it showed off the impressive capabilities that Porcello had in his arsenal.
With a rotation that would eventually consist of seven Cy Youngs, twenty All-Star appearances, and numerous ERA, WHIP, and strikeout leaders, it is really amazing that they could not get the 2014 Detroit Tigers team further. Every starting pitcher on that pitching staff has won a ring since leaving Motown. There was success to be found in Detroit, but they were never able to win it all.
Had this rotation had more than a half a season to develop, then maybe the Tigers would be champions once again. Or maybe the issue was internal. Every pitcher on the staff revitalized their career after departing from Detroit. The talent within the rotation was insurmountable and if only they could have all clicked at the same time, then maybe they would be in the history books.