TigsTown MLN: Respect Down the Home Stretch

12 games left and the Louisville Bats have officially pulled away from the Mud Hens in the West Division race.

It's hard to say whether the loss of Mike Hessman and Blaine Neal to the Olympics was even a factor. Maybe it was something as simple as hitting and pitching. Whatever the problem, the Hens know that they have some ground to make up for if they want to keep the rest of the season respectable.

As the Pawtucket Red Sox and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees battle for Supremacy in the North, and the Durham Bulls are taking the South, the Louisville Bats have crept away with the best record, so far, in the whole International League. This in part makes things tough on the Mud Hens— who are fighting for a spot in the playoffs. So it's a safe bet that the Mud Hens are playing the classic role of the spoiler down the home stretch. Whether Pawtucket or Scranton-Wilkes Barre wins the North, the other will inevitably take the wild card. Toledo's heads are not hanging though, no, they're just trying to finish the season on a good note and maybe make a few enemies on the way.

Toledo has won two in a row against Norfolk to sit them just one win shy of 70 wins on the season. Last night's win was Dontrelle Willis' again. In the five innings he pitched, he allowed five runs on eight hits with walking five and striking out four before Matt Rusch came in to relieve him. Though his performance was a bit ugly, he hung in there and pitched his way to a 3-1 record this season with the Hens. Francisco Cruceta picked up his second save of the season.

Dusty Ryan has been nothing short of a breath of fresh air for the Toledo. The right-handed catcher out of California has provided when needed for Larry Parrish's crew. In his last three games he's produced four hits and four RBI with only one strikeout, while facing a slew of Richmond and Norfolk's finest pitchers.

Ryan is relatively a big catcher at 6-foot-5, 220-pounds. His bat is capable of mass raw power, while his skills defensively are quite sharp, with Gold Glove potential. In the 13 games he has played for the Hens, he's batting .333 with 10 runs on 16 hits and 10 RBI. The California native is getting better every game, and with the Tigers facing problems at the catching position, Ryan will have his chance to enter Spring Training in 2009 to compete for the position. He's the best catcher in the Tigers' farm system, and we could see him play this fall during September call-ups.

Toledo will finish up their road trip on Friday before they play their last seven home games of the season between Richmond and Columbus. Though Toledo has had a tough second half, there is some good news. As of right now they've had 14 straight sell-outs. Fifth Third Field has reached 500,000 in attendance, continuing a streak of half a million fans each season since the stadium's open in 2002. July 30 marked the 200th sell-out in the history of Fifth Third Field. Also, even bigger news: Jake Tyler was named Turf Manager of the Year for his third straight season. Ok, that's irrelevant, but he's a top story in Toledo— no lie.

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