The key to success in baseball is ALWAYS the pitching. Great starting pitching will almost always beat great hitting. To that end, it's no surprise that the foundation of the Tigers' 95-win season in 2006 was their starting pitching, which was the best in baseball, with a collective ERA of 3.84.
This year has been a bit more tumultuous, with Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman missing time due to injury, Mike Maroth being traded, and Andrew Miller and Chad Durbin being impressive enough to shake things up upon Kenny's return.
So, without further babbling...The Tigers' Starting Rotation in the first half, 2006 vs. 2007.
* - Injured on May 25
* - Moved to Bullpen
** - Traded
Analysis: Bonderman's numbers would've been better, but he spent two weeks on the DL with blister issues, and he would have more wins but he got a no decision in each of his first five starts, four of which he allowed 3 runs or less. He was great in his last two starts especially, shutting out the Twins over 8 innings while striking out 7 and getting the win, and striking out 9 Red Sox over 8 innings while only allowing 2 runs (the Tigers won in the 13th).
Verlander's been the star of the staff so far, pitching his way to the All-Star Game. Of course he had the no-hitter against Milwaukee, but other than that, aside from two rough outings (against Cleveland and Minnesota), he hasn't allowed more than 3 earned runs in any start.
Robertson and Maroth were entirely mediocre. Robertson was spared with a trip to the DL (and has looked decent since returning), while Maroth was the odd man out when Kenny got back, and was traded to St. Louis. Durbin did such a good job in Kenny's place, he's remained with the team in the bullpen since Kenny returned.
Speaking of which, Kenny's been great. It's only three starts, but he's fresh and his leadership with the younger pitchers is immeasurable.
And finally...the phenom. Andrew Miller was called up in May to start while Bondo was on the DL, and although he went back down when Bondo returned, Robertson's injury brought him back, and brought him back for good. His breaking ball is still developing, but his awkward delivery and blazing fastball is more than enough for now.
Despite Verlander being the only consistent and injury-free guy in the first half this year, the Tigers still rank 5th in the AL in team ERA at 4.31, and the blazing offense has stepped up big for them. I feel compelled to give them a C+ or B- overall. It would be more like a B+ over the past few weeks, but the early inconsistency brings it down just a bit. I'm confident that the second half of 2007 will look a lot more like 2006 for the starting rotation, though.
Tomorrow: The bullpen.