Justin Verlander's most impressive stat on Sunday was his 20th victory, a mark no other pitcher has reached this season and just three pitchers reached a season ago.
The Tigers' right-hander now has his first 20-win season in his career, after finishing with 19 in 2009, tied for the most in baseball. As Danny Knobler pointed out, he's the first to reach the 20-win barrier before August since Curt Schilling did it in 2002. Schilling finished that season with 23 wins -- one behind teammate Randy Johnson for the most in baseball that year.
How wins will Verlander have when the 2011 season is done?
At this point -- when he's won 16 of his last 18 starts and eight straight -- it seems like he'll win either 25 or 26 games, depending on how many more starts he makes. The Tigers have 30 more games and two days off in the regular season, so they have the option of giving him either five or six more starts in the season.
Verlander will get an extra day of rest this week, pitching Friday against the White Sox instead of in five days in a makeup game against the Royals on Thursday. He will then start at Cleveland in the day game on Sept. 7. After that, the Tigers have options because of their first off day of the month, Sept. 8.
If the Tigers go with pitching Verlander every five days from there, he would make six starts in the last month, his final start in the next-to-last day of the season, Sept. 27 against the Indians. But that option would mean Verlander wouldn't be ready to pitch in the playoffs until Game 3 of the ALDS on Oct. 3 with an extra day's rest because of the off day on Oct. 2. The team could move him up to pitch on short rest in Game 2 on Oct. 1, but it's not something he's ever done.
What makes more sense is keeping the rotation intact through the first off day, pitching Verlander on Sept. 13 at the White Sox and Sept. 18 at Oakland, before the team's second off day on Sept. 19. From there, they would be able to take stock of the AL Central race and whether they would want Verlander to make one more start or two more starts. After Verlander's victory and the Indians' victory over the Royals and Chicago's win in Seattle, the Tigers led the Indians by 6 1/2 games and the White Sox by 7.
If on the 19th the Tigers think the race will be close, they can pitch Verlander on five days rest and get him a start Sept. 23 against the Orioles and then the last day of the season, on Sept. 28 against Cleveland. If the team does go that route, they will have until the last day to decide if Verlander is needed. If he isn't, he can rest on the last day of the season and let Verlander start Game 1 of the ALDS. If he pitches on Sept. 28, he would be ready for Game 3. That's similar to what the Tigers did in 2009, when they lost three games in a row leading into the last day of the season, needing a Verlander victory to advance to a tie-breaker game with the Twins for the final playoff spot. Verlander got that win, but the Tigers lost the play-in game to Minnesota.
However, if on the 19th it appears the Tigers have it wrapped up, they can keep the rotation intact and have him pitch Sept. 24 against the Orioles and then start Game 1 with an extra day of rest, which is probably the scenario that everyone in Detroit would prefer, even if it means Verlander wins just 25 games instead of 26.
Whatever the choice is, he'll face the same teams -- the White Sox, Indians, A's and Orioles, the difference is if he faces the Indians once or twice. Against those four teams, Verlander is 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA. The White Sox have done most of the damage to him, scoring 13 earned runs in 29 innings over four starts, although Verlander was 3-1 against Chicago. The A's beat Verlander on April 16, getting four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings in Oakland. He is 2-0 against the Indians in two starts this season and also defeatd the Orioles in his lone start against Baltimore.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.