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Former Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander will pitch in potential 2019 ALCS clinching game for the Houston Astros this week. However, he could be adding more hardware to his trophy case this fall besides a possible World Series ring.
The Houston Astros are looking to make another deep postseason run with an electric pitching staff, at the forefront of that pitching staff is very familiar to the Detroit Tigers fans.

Justin Verlander seems to have found the fountain of youth and has not slowed down in his ability whatsoever. The Astros have more than just Verlander in that deep rotation with Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke in the playoff rotation.

This fall, Verlander will be in an intense battle for the 2019 American League Cy Young Award with other Astros right-hander Cole. In 2019, Verlander was 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP, and 300 punch-outs through 223 innings pitched.

We’re waist deep in playoff baseball! For as interesting as the National League is keeping it in the early rounds, the American League is doing something of the opposite. Heading into Monday’s games, Minnesota and Tampa Bay find themselves in a tough spots, with both teams trailing two games to none.

The Detroit Tigers, of course, are playing golf — or video games, or whatever it is you do when your team doesn’t sniff the playoffs. Reflections on the past season and speculation of what is to come are both in full swing as we head into week two of the offseason. Let’s take a look at how that is going.

Making the grade
Last week, I brought you the final season scores from Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. This week, we have some additional grades to add from the cards of Chris McCosky of The Detroit News and Evan Woodbery of MLive. Ever the optimist, McCosky opens by hoping 2019 signified rock bottom for the rebuild of the Tigers. The actual grades for the players are in the gallery within the article. The written words address speculation about who the Tigers will keep and what the team might do in free agency. As far as grades go, there were only three guys who graded above a C level: Buck Farmer with a B-minus, Harold Castro with a B, and Victor Reyes with a B-plus. No failing grades were given out — although they would have been warranted.

Woodbery is far more generous. On the pitching end of things, he hands out A’s to Buck Farmer and Shane Greene, sprinkles a fair amount of B’s and C’s in there, and then dumps a cartload of D’s on folks the likes of Ryan Carpenter, Victor Alcantara, and Jordan Zimmermann. On offense, only one A was awarded among a sea of C’s and D’s. Like McCosky, Woodbery loves him some Victor Reyes.

Yes, Victor Reyes is getting the only A on the club. Who would have predicted that? It’s easy to find flaws in Reyes’ game, but the fact is he provided real, measurable offensive and defensive value in the two months in which he played regularly. He made small strides in plate discipline and larger strides in power. Defensively, he’s far better than anyone gives him credit for at all three outfield positions.

It looks like the former Rule-5 pick turned some heads in his limited stint to close out the year. I imagine we see more of him in 2020.

A surprising iron man
It may surprise you to read that the player on the 2019 team who logged the most games played was none other than Miguel Cabrera. The man who, as he ages, seems to demonstrate a lower body made mostly of balsa wood and disappointment logged 136 games this year. Playing a good number of them out of the designated hitter spot was certainly helpful. There’s a cool infogram in Evan Woodbery’s article that shows pie charts of how playing time was split among the various positions. The highest variation was at first base, which saw 10 different players man the post throughout the year. The lowest was at catcher with four.

Man at work
Pitching prospect Casey Mize finished out 2019 with disappointment. That feeling didn’t lie with his performance over his first full season of professional baseball, but with his inability to pitch through the end of the season. A pitch limit that everyone expected caused the young hurler to be shut down as his Erie SeaWolves were making a playoff run, a push he wanted to be part of. The 2019 season was far from a disappointment for Mize, but he is already looking to improve for 2020. He is working on firming up his cutter, slowing down his splitter, and establishing his fastball higher in the zone.

Critical questions
Moving into the future speculation category, Evan Woodbery has three critical questions for the Tigers as they look to 2020. The first question — will Gardenhire and his coaching staff be back? — has already been answered, and it’s basically a yes. There have been some Titanic deck chair references made to this, but I’m not sure 2020 is the year new blood is going to be wanted or warranted for this organization.

The second question is which players won’t be returning. The answer basically assumes anyone who isn’t currently contractually tied to the team has a good chance of not being around when the team breaks for Detroit in the spring. The final question is how active the team will be in the free agent market. Evan sees the addition of a veteran catcher and shortstop as must haves, and while Ron Gardenhire has made some statements about bringing in a run producer, it’s hard to see where or how that happens.

Around the horn
Some early speculation on where some big names might land in the off season, and no, there are no Tigers on this list. Houston Astros pitcher, Zack Greinke embraces brevity in a 43-word press conference. A missing major leaguer: what happened to Fred Osborne? Watch Mets slugger Pete Alonso smash random things with a bat.

The Astros acquired Verlander back in 2017, and since then, they have seen Verlander continue to be dominant on the mound and not get worse over time. Cole could sweep in and steal the Cy Young award from Verlander because of his incredible year on the bump.

While toeing the rubber for the Astros in 2019, Cole went 20-5 with 2.50 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 326 strikeouts through 212.1 innings pitched. He was the MLB league leader in strikeouts with his 326 punch-outs helping the Astros get back into the postseason. It will make for a great for a Cy Young Award race that will ultimately come down to how the voters decide.

As mentioned above, Verlander was dealt away by the Detroit Tigers in 2017 when the Tigers brought in pitcher Franklin Perez, outfielder Daz Cameron, and catcher Jake Rogers. The Detroit Tigers viewed this as a win since Verlander was “on the downturn” and “aging” while he has done quite an excellent job of proving that to be the opposite.

The Tigers are just now seeing the Major League debut of these prospects with Jake Rogers cracking the big league roster this year while Verlander is contending for a Cy Young award. In a rebuild, this would be expected, but it’s tough to stomach the team’s former ace going out there and pitching a season where he could very well earn a Cy Young Award after he was supposed to be “aging” in his career.

For now, Tigers fans can watch the Astros try to capture another World Series title with Cole and Verlander leading the way for the pitching staff. While doing so, fans can think about how the future value of Jake Rogers should be exciting and do not forget about Daz Cameron and Franklin Perez. The value of the trade will recoup itself, eventually… I can only hope for the sake of this rebuild.

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