Though Anibal Sanchez struck out nine Minnesota Twins over six innings Thursday, it took until the ninth inning for the Tigers to reach double digits. Once Jose Ortega fanned Josh Willingham with one out in the ninth, the Tigers had 10 strikeouts for the sixth consecutive game, setting an American League record.
The streak began in Sanchez's last start, when he set a franchise record with 17 strikeouts against the Braves on Friday night. By Tuesday, it had matched the longest streak by an American League team since at least 1916, tied with seven other teams -- all since 1996. One of those streaks came by the Boston Red Sox just last month.
Now, the Tigers have the AL standard to themselves, and are tied with four other teams -- most recently the Cincinnati Reds from two weeks ago -- for the second-longest streak in modern Major League history. Only last year's Milwaukee Brewers, who put up double-digit strikeouts in eight consecutive games, have a longer streak, according to research on baseball-reference.com.
The vast majority of those strikeouts have come from a starting rotation that came into the year ranked among the best in baseball. Max Scherzer struck out 10 Twins over 7 1/3 innings on Monday night after Doug Fister fanned eight in seven innings the previous evening. Rick Porcello struck out five over 6 1/3 innings on Saturday against Atlanta, but Detroit's bullpen took care of the other half, including back-to-back strikeouts from closer Jose Valverde to end the game in double digits.
Justin Verlander, who fanned eight Twins in seven innings on Tuesday, said the starters are competing with each other.
"Yeah, I think you guys saw Scherzer take a jab at me the other day. I took a little jab back," Verlander said. "It's fun, and I think when you get four or five guys rolling on a starting staff, there's going to be competition. There's going to be guys chirping back and forth at each other, and it's all in good fun. We're a family here, especially our starting staff. We feed off each other. To get that internal competition, I think it's a fantastic thing."
It was one thing to pile up strikeouts against a Braves lineup that leads the National League. The Twins, however, came in ranked near the bottom of the American League with a more disciplined middle of the order, led by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Now, the Tigers will take their streak into Houston for four games against the Astros, who entered Wednesday averaging 9.9 strikeouts per game with a mix of unproven young hitters and free-swinging veterans. Even when they've scored runs, they've fanned in abundance, including 56 strikeouts over their first four games to open the year.
Porcello, the young sinkerballer with the lowest strikeout rate of Detroit's starters, will pitch in Thursday's series opener at Minute Maid Park.
There's a price to pay for all those strikeouts, though, which has Tigers manager Jim Leyland is hoping for a few more quick groundouts and efficient outings from his starters.
"It's a nice accomplishment," Leyland said. "Hopefully all our starters will get some easier situations and some quicker outs so that their pitch count doesn't pay the price."