Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
August 11, 2014, Seattle, WA (ISN) – The Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners are set to square off in Seattle Monday evening in the first game of a three game series that could have major repercussions on the playoff hopes of both teams, as both are firmly ensconced in a battle for an American League Wild Card playoff spot.
British Columbia is home to many Toronto Blue Jay fans, like these three Victoria youngsters as at a Blue Jays development camp, and many will be making their way to Seattle Monday for a three-game series with the Mariners (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
As of Sunday night, the Mariners and the Blue Jays were 1.5 games back of Kansas City for the final Wild Card spot, with both teams one game ahead of New York.
Both the Mariners and Jays also have slim hopes remaining of capturing their respective Division titles, with the Jays looking to have the best shot, sitting 5 games back of East Division leading Baltimore but with the Yankees hot on their tail in third. The Mariners have a lot of work to do, and need some help to have a shot at their Division, as they sit 10 games behind the surprising West Division leading Oakland A’s and 6 games back of the Los Angeles Angels.
Both the Mariners and Blue Jays helped their cause Sunday by winning big games, the Mariners with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox to take that series 3 games to 1, while the Blue Jays defeated the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in a 19 inning marathon to take their three-game series 2 to 1 and bring the Tigers back into the Wild Card race, as they now sit just a half-game ahead of Kansas City for the Central Division lead.
Playing games that matter this late in the season has been a rarity for both the Jays and the Mariners in recent seasons and is thus an added bonus for the many Blue Jay fans who live in the Pacific Northwest, especially the large contingent of British Columbians that are expected to make the trek down to Seattle for the games.
With the Blue Jays being “Canada’s Team” and the Mariners being the closest MLB team to British Columbia and the defacto home team for many that live in BC, the fan following in Canada is huge and it is envisioned that the games will be well-attended and that there may be as many Blue Jay fans in the stands as there are Mariner fans.
Sadly however, two British Columbians that may not be at Safeco Field over the three day series are the Mariners Michael Saunders (Victoria, BC) and the Blue Jays Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC), who are both currently on the DL and are not likely to play in the series.
Saunders was having a great season, hitting .276 with 6 home runs and 28 RBIs, but has been plagued by two stints on the DL, the first for a shoulder issue and most recently a strained left oblique muscle that has kept him out of the line-up since July 10th. He began a minor league rehab stint with Tacoma (AAA) on Thursday and depending on how that goes, might be available for the series against the Jays. So far so good on that note, as Saunders, batting in the lead-off spot, is hitting .416 (5 for 12) with 6 walks and 2 RBIs in the 4 games played through Sunday.
Victoria native Michael Saunders could be back in the line-up for the series against the Jays, as he is just in the middle of a rehab stint with Tacoma following an oblique muscle injury (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
In a recent interview with Greg Johns of MLB.com, Saunders acknowledged the process has been tough as he’s watched his club from the sidelines.
“It’s very tough to watch from the bench and see the guys out there playing and busting their butts trying to get W’s while you’re just sitting back watching, feeling like I’m missing out,” Saunders said. “Since they’re in the hunt right now, I almost feel like I’m letting the team down by being on the DL. So I’m very excited to get the clearance to go down and start my rehab and look forward to getting back up.”
The Mariners added outfielders Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia since Saunders went on the 15-day DL, so it remains to be seen how things will shake out when he’s ready to return. The current outfield consists of Dustin Ackley in left, Jackson in center and Denorfia and Endy Chavez splitting time in right field.
For the Blue Jays, Lawrie will definitely not play. He returned to the Jays line-up last Tuesday after missing six-weeks due to a broken finger, and lasted just three innings before leaving the game with an oblique strain, the same injury he suffered in 2012. Lawrie has once again been placed on the 15-day DL, but rumours are that he will be out of the line-up for 3-6 weeks as the injury may be more severe than initially thought.
The Jays did receive some good news on the injury front, as Adam Lind is expected to re-join the team for the Mariners series. Lind has been out since July 9th with a broken foot and played a Gulf Coast League rehab game on Thursday where he went 2 for 2 with a pair of doubles.
The Jays won’t be so lucky with Edwin Encarnacion (strained quadriceps) however, as he was expected to play a rehab game this past weekend in Dunedin, but now likely won’t be back until the end of the week.
Despite the injuries on both sides, this series – the first meeting between the Jays and M’s this season – should be a dandy and will jump out of the gate with a great pitching match-up on Monday night when the M’s “King” Felix Hernandez goes up against the Jays’ Drew Hutchison.
Hernandez (12-3, 1.97 ERA), a five-time All-Star, has recorded an MLB-record 15 straight starts of seven or more innings with two or fewer runs, including eight innings of one-run ball in last Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Atlanta. He’s 8-2 with a 1.43 ERA in those 15 games and his 1.97 ERA leads the American League.
The Jays will have a tough test Monday when they face the American League ERA leader Felix Hernandez in the first game of their 3-game series (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Hutchison (8-9, 4.39 ERA) was outstanding in his last start against Baltimore this past Wednesday and came within one out of a complete game. He allowed just one hit, which came in the second inning on a solo home run by Chris Davis. Hutchison also walked only one batter.
On Tuesday, probable pitchers include the Mariners Chris Young (10-6, 3.27 ERA) going up against the Jays J.A. Happ (8-6, 4.09 ERA).
Young has won 2 out his last three outings, including a 7-3 win over Atlanta last Wednesday. The 6-foot-10 right-hander has been a big boost to the Mariners with his first 10-win season since 2006, as he’s finally overcome a long battle with shoulder issues. Young is 7-3 with a 2.42 ERA in 12 starts at Safeco Field.
Happ set a career high during his last start with 12 strikeouts last Thursday against the Orioles. He also allowed just two runs over eight strong innings but was stuck with the loss because of a lack of run support. Happ has a 1.71 ERA since the All-Star break.
On Wednesday, the Jays will send knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey (9-11) out to face Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma (10-6). Dickey threw his seventh quality start in his past 10 games against the Tigers last Friday, but ended up with a no-decision, while Iwakuma, who missed the first month of the season with a finger injury, won his 10th game of the season Friday, a 4-1 victory over the White Sox. He is 5-2 with a 2.04 ERA over his last eight starts and he’s 2-1, with a 3.09 ERA in four career games against Toronto.
Offensively, the Mariners will be led by second baseman Robinson Cano, who is doing what was expected of him when the Mariners acquired him from the Yankees in the off season, leading the team in a number of offensive categories including average (.330), hits (142), doubles (27), walks (47) on-base percentage (.399) and is second in RBIs with 64.
Third baseman Kyle Seager is also having a great season, being selected to the 2014 All-Star game and recently named the Mariners nominee for the 2014 Heart and Hustle Award from the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. He is hitting .275 with 118 hits including 17 home runs (2nd on the team) and a team-leading 71 RBIs.
The Jays of course are led the likes of Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes, with Cabrera hitting .318 and in leading the team in hits with 153. He has been one of the Jays hottest hitters over the last month, hitting safely in 20 of his previous 23 games and was batting .392 (31-for-79) with a .455 on-base percentage since July 13. In the weekend series with Detroit he was 6 for 14 with 3 RBIs and reached base 8 times, 3 hits and 5 walks, in the 19-inning affair Sunday.
With Encarnacion and his 26 home runs and 70 RBIs out of the line-up, the always dangerous Bautista leads the team in those categories respectively with 22, and 70. Reyes has 124 hits including 23 doubles and leads the team in stolen bases with 22.
All three games ins Seattle are 7:10 pm starts at Safeco Field.
• This is the first meeting of the season between the Jays and Mariners. The teams went 3-3 against each other in 2013.
• This marks the start of an 8-game road trip for the Jays
• The Blue Jays are 193-174 against the Mariners overall and 15-14 against the M’s from 2010 to present.
• The Mariners are 26-13 in the first game of a series and 12-1 on Mondays thus far in 2014…with Hernandez pitching Monday, that does not bode well for the Jays!
• The Jays are 30-30 on the road and 12-13 against West Division teams in 2014
ISN’s Christian J. Stewart will be on hand at Safeco Field to cover the Jays and Mariners series. Watch for his stories and photos following each game at www.independentsportsnews.com.