10:10 PM EST – Money Line: Mariners -110, Run Line: 8.5
A pair of second-place teams competing for the final Wild Card in the American League as the Seattle Mariners host the Detroit Tigers in the middle chapter of a three-game series at Safeco Field. There is plenty on the line for the Tigers (61-51, 2nd in AL Central), who despite owning the last Wild Card spot in the AL, only trail the Cleveland Indians by 2.5 games in the division. Brad Ausmus and his charges had won eight consecutive games before their current run, which has seen them drop three out of their last five leading into the current series with the Mariners. Things got off to a rather inauspicious start for Detroit Monday Night, as the visiting side was blanked 3-0, in a contest in which their offense simply couldn’t get anything going; the visitors amassed just five hits, none of which were of the extra-base variety, and managed to strike out eight times in comparison to walking just once. Starting Pitcher Michael Fulmer (9-3, 2.43 ERA) was more than solid, allowing two earned runs on five hits over the course of seven innings, striking out six and walking one, but the blossoming young hurler, simply received nothing from his teammates at the plate. Taking the mound tonight for Ausmus and Co. is Daniel Norris (1-0, 4.85 ERA), who was added to the roster on Monday, after Jordan Zimmerman (9-5, 4.44 ERA) was back to the 15-Day Disabled List. The Starter suffered a lat injury in his first start after coming off the DL in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Mets. As a result, Norris was called up from Triple-A Toledo to make his appearance for the Tigers since July 4th, where he contributed two innings of labor despite, yet failed to factor into the decision. In the 5-3 defeat at division-leading Cleveland, the young Lefthander allowed a pair of earned runs on three hits on thirty-one pitches, while amassing three strikeouts and a walk. Apart from that, the southpaw hasn’t started since a June 29th hammering of the Marlins, in which the 23-year old earned his lone victory of the campaign, relinquishing two runs on eight hits over the course of five innings, striking out eight while walking only one of the batters he faced. It would be a welcome sign if this kid can make an impact for the Rotation, which just two years ago was the strength of this team has degenerated into an injury-riddled mess; along with Zimmerman’s injury woes, fellow starter Mike Pelfrey (4-9, 4.76 ERA) is also currently occupying the 15-Day DL. With the exception of former Cy Young Justin Verlander (12-6, 3.52 ERA), only one other starter has an ERA below 4.44, leaving Ausmus and his Staff to rely more and more on their Bullpen, which has been up to the task. Lefty Justin Wilson (3.64 ERA, 8.17 K/BB) has been a beast in the primary setup role, while Francisco Rodriguez (3.07 ERA, 32 Saves) remains one of the more effective closers in the Majors. Four of Detroit’s Relievers have worked at least forty innings thus far, with the likes of Kyle Ryan and Mark Lowe adding 39.2 and 36.2 innings respectively, a telltale sign that this group has been utilized early and often. Fortunately, one thing that hasn’t changed is that this team is still one of the more prolific hitting teams in the American League; their disappointing performance Monday Night aside, the Tigers rank second in Hits (1,025), Batting Average (.269), and On Base Percentage (.329), fourth in Runs (530) and Home Runs (145), and third in Slugging Percentage (.439), with All-Stars Miguel Cabrera (.308 BA, 25 HR, 74 RBI) and Ian Kinsler (.295 BA, 21 HR, 62 RBI) leading the charge.
Meanwhile, The Mariners (58-53, 2nd in AL West) should be focused only on surpassing Detroit in the race for the final Wild Card, as Monday Night’s victory brought them a game closer in the standings, as they now trail tonight’s opponent by 2.5 games. It’s a far more realistic goal for Seattle than gunning for division-leading, and consequently league-leading Texas, who at the moment lead the M’s by a sizable seven games out West. Granted, with six weeks left before the Playoffs, anything can happen, but as we stated before, simply getting into the postseason is a much more attainable goal for a franchise who hasn’t reached that summit in fifteen years. With that said, Scott Servais’ charges are getting hot at the right time, winning six out of their last seven outings, including four straight, including the first of their three-game set with Tigers. While the hosts manufactured their way to three runs, the major takeaway from the game was the performance of one Hisashi Iwakuma (13-7, 3.79 ERA). In a Rotation best by injuries all season, the 35-year old Japanese International has been a welcome calming influence, and proved it once again Monday Night; the Righthander relinquished no runs on five hits over the course of seven stellar innings, fanning eight Tigers while permitting one lone walk, as he vexed Detroit’s powerful lineup throughout the affair. Heading to the bump tonight for Servais and Co. is Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 4.31 ERA), who looks to continue to make the most out of his inclusion to the Rotation due to a rash of injuries to his fellow teammates. Much like the situation in Detroit, Seattle’s stable of arms has been ailing throughout the campaign, forcing Servais to tinker continuously; six different pitchers have started at least thirteen games, but only one has seen that figure rise above twenty starts. Starter Nate Karns (6-2, 5.15 ERA) is currently languishing on the 15-Day DL, while former Cy Young Felix Hernandez (6-4, 3.55 ERA) has been relegated to just fourteen starts this season courtesy of a variety of ailments. Needless to say, the Bullpen has seen a wealth of action this season, leading the 32-year old veteran to ply his trade at the start of the game, rather than the end. However, that may not be a bad thing here, for while he’s only managed to register one victory thus far, the Mariners have triumphed in five out of his last six appearances. In his last start, a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on August 2nd, the Southpaw pitched reasonably well despite not factoring into the decision; LeBlanc yielded three runs on five hits over the course of six innings of labor, yet struck out five opponents compared to one walk. The eighth-year veteran has shown excellent control in his limited opportunities, averaging 4.60 strikeouts per walk in 31.1 innings of work, a figure that is greater than any of the six Mariners that have comprised the regular Rotation this season. Then again, a major reason as to why the team has enjoyed such success in his appearances, has been the fact that lineup has continued to rake; Seattle has scored no fewer than four runs in LeBlanc’s last six appearances, averaging a mighty healthy 6.7 runs in those instances. Unsurprisingly, Servais’ charges rank third in the league in Home Runs (156), as the triumvirate of Robinson Cano (24), Kyle Seager (20), and Nelson Cruz (27) have comprised seventy-one of that total.