By: Eric Thomas

So now it’s Brayan Peña’s fault. Justin Verlander’s struggles have endured, and the timetable is growing longer. “I’ll start worrying in August,” was the common brush-off but now it’s only a few days away. The clock is ticking. Tiger fans can cross their fingers and hope that JV’s just having a bad regular season. All you have left is hope, because evidence is only getting scarcer.

It would seem unthinkable at any point in the last two years, but some fans have expressed buyer’s remorse on Verlander’s contract. The American League MVP from 2011 has Detroiters more worried than the city’s bankruptcy. That Verlander magic seems missing. If the playoffs started today, Verlander likely wouldn’t be the number one starter. He might even be the number four.

In 2011, he ended losing streaks. In 2013, he’s ended winning streaks.

As we’ve nervously followed Verlander’s struggles this season, Tiger fans have become junior Freudians, attempting to diagnose the problem. They’ve arrived at a wide variety of mechanical and mental maladies for the 30 year old right hander. It’s been endless, mostly focused on Kate Upton; some even painted Verlander as the latest rich sports superstar who lost focus when the checks got bigger.

These discussions are useless and bear no resemblance to reality. We need to hit pause on them, because they don’t matter. As much as your natural curiosity may be piqued at the prospect, of how a person with dominating talent looks so pedestrian only a year later, but it’s irrelevant.

Verlander spent two years as the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball. His picture graced the covers of video games. He’s become one of the game’s biggest stars. He went on Conan.

In that time his name has been mentioned among the ranks of legends and Tiger fans counted games on the schedule to ensure that their tickets guaranteed a JV start. There are miles of tape on JV, which is most likely the problem this year.

Justin Verlander is still a great pitcher, but he’s stymied by two things. First, he’s obviously a victim of his own success. His performance two years ago will go down as one of the best in history. Verlander brought a possible no-hitter with every chance to the mound—and while that’s unrealistic expectations, he made it seem possible nonetheless. Dennis Eckersley seemed like he was on the edge of a religious experience when he watched Verlander in the playoffs last year.

Second, JV is on an amazing staff. The Tigers starting rotation has been among baseball’s best. Max Scherzer deserved to start the All-Star game and proved it with his performance. Anibal Sanchez holds the single game strikeout record for the Tigers, a feat achieved this year. Doug Fister has been inconsistent, but more often good than bad. Verlander has had some good performances, but his teammates have been better.

So stop worrying about Verlander and WHY he’s been struggling. The only thing that matters is THAT he’s struggling. In a season where it’s been World Series or bust since Spring Training, the Tiger’s best pitcher has been Max Scherzer. It should give fans hope that Verlander can be a little less “Verlander” and yet remain a favorite for the Fall Classic.

Verlander said Thursday’s rocky start against the White Sox was a step in the right direction. All you have left is to hope he’s right.


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