"Well to even be back in the race at all is exciting," OF Jeff Frazier said, "I mean to come back from where we are at and to be this close is bittersweet."
The Mud Hens have been left for dead in the playoff chase twice this season, and after Tuesday night's heartbreaking 3-2 loss, it appears as though they are back on the outside looking in. Despite compiling a 17-7 record for the month of August, the Hens find themselves six games behind the Durham Bulls for the wild card spot with just thirteen games left to play.
"Well we were on a roll for awhile and that helped many of the guys gain some confidence, but it is going to be a tough road from here on out" Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said.
As of Wednesday, Toledo will play only one game against a winning team the rest of the way out. But Durham on the other hand has ten games against winning teams, four of which are against the Gwinnett Braves who lead the IL South. In between the Hens and Durham are the Syracuse Chiefs, who are only 2.5 games behind the Bulls for the wild card lead. The Chiefs play four games of their final 15 games against winning teams. While the schedule advantage is in the Hens favor, it would take a monumental charge to topple the Bulls.
"All the years I have been here, we have been focused on winning a championship for this team," third baseman Mike Hessman said. "We are going to play our best and just see where we end up."
While the task in front of the Hens is daunting, this is not the first time Toledo has been in this situation. In 2002, the team was 4.5 games away from a playoff berth. The Hens went 10-2 down the stretch to qualify for the postseason. The Hens are hoping that lightning will strike twice.
The Hens elimination number in the wild card race is at 9 and in the race for the IL West, it is even worse with the elimination number at 5. To put it into perspective, if Durham finished 6-7 over their last 13 games, Toledo would need to finish the season 12-1 just to tie Durham for the wild card.
"To make the playoffs after some of the stints we had this season would be great for us and this city. The fans never gave up on us, and it would be great to reward them too," Frazier said.
September to Remember
With the first of September just a few days away, the Detroit Tigers are strategically making decisions as to who will be part of this season's call ups when the rosters expand to 40 players. There are several candidates with the Mud Hens who are ready to make the jump to the senior circuit.
There seems to be little argument about at least three players currently with Toledo who should be donning the old English "D" for the remainder of the regular season. They are Scott Sizemore, Wilkin Ramirez, and Freddy Dolsi. Sizemore is all but a lock for a late season call up, as he is a strong candidate to be the Tigers' starting second baseman next spring. Ramirez has already had two stints in the big leagues already this season, and it seems natural he would get a third. Dolsi has been called up twice as well, and with the AL Central title in their sites, Detroit can always use extra arms out of the pen.
That, however, is not all. Tigers' manager Jim Leyland has made it clear that he is not going to just call up players to sit around for the month of September. Players having a good chance of making the jump to the majors are Casey Fien, Brent Dlugach, and Eddie Bonine. Both Fien and Bonine have already made appearances in the Motor City, and Dlugach is a possible candidate to reward him for a terrific season.
Longer shots to be called up would be Dusty Ryan, Zach Simons, and Nate Bump. Ryan was up with Detroit for almost two months as the backup to Gerald Laird at catcher, but with the emergence of Alex Avila, Ryan may be limited in chances to play. Simons has a chance to bolster the pen in Detroit, but with three pitchers being added, innings may be a hard to find for Simons. Nate Bump seems to be the wild card of all the players. As crazy as it may sound, the right hander has pitched lights out with Toledo since joining the team in July. If he continues this trend, do not be surprised if Bump finds his way to Detroit.
Two players almost certain to find themselves back in Detroit this September will be pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson. Both continued to make big strides in regaining their form, since beginning rehab assignment with Toledo in August. Robertson was lights out in his August 20th start in Columbus. Robertson went five solid innings allowing only one run on five hits. He also struck out four. His most recent start against Louisville was another gem. Robertson pitched 6 2/3, shutting out the Bats on three this. Robertson also struck out nine, and his ball to strike ratio was phenomenal too. Robertson threw 68 pitches in his outing, and 52 of them were for strikes.
"It all comes down to command and executing pitches. I had three pitches working well, and it went well. I feel good and I feel like I am starting to get back to form," Robertson said.
Bonderman continues to impress as well. The right hander made three relief appearances last week and pitched very well in both. Bonderman helped out his Tiger teammate, pitching two scoreless innings to help Robertson collect the win. He also pitched well this past Sunday against Louisville, collecting a two inning save for his work. He did run into a rough patch yesterday taking the loss against Louisville, allowing two runs in one inning of work.
Things did not go as well for Dontrelle Willis however. The southpaw made his first rehab start with Toledo last Wednesday, but Willis left the game early with what appeared to be a strained hip. Willis's line for the night was 1 and 1/3 inning allowing a run on one hit and one strikeout. It is not known how long the injury will keep Willis out.
Hens News and Notes
- Larry Parrish has surpassed Casey Stengel for third all time on the Hens career wins list. Parrish now sits at 493 wins as skipper of the Mud Hens. He surpassed Stengel on August 21st when the Hens beat the Columbus Clippers 4-1. Parrish needs only four victories to tie former manager Charles Strobel at 497 wins.
- 3B Mike Hessman was named the International League's Batter of the Week. Hessman hit .321 with 4 HR and 11 RBI to earn him the honor. Also the slugger's team high 21 HR extends his streak of six seasons of hitting 20 or more home runs as well. Hessman's recent resurgence at the plate has helped Toledo climb back into contention for the playoffs.
"It was a nice honor. I have just been trying to put together a nice finish to the season," Hessman said.
- Jeff Frazier's grand slam on Sunday marked his second of the season, and both came within the span of a week. Coincidentally enough, both of Frazier's grand slams were against Columbus starter Chuck Lofgren.
"I never have the bases loaded. I think it was just bad luck for him. I have only had the bases loaded for me like five time this year. It just happened that two of those times he was pitching," Frazier said.
- The Hens tied their season high win streak total of eight on Sunday. However Monday night's loss broke the streak. Toledo has not won nine games in a row since 2005. But it was only the second time Toledo has had to 7+ game win streaks in a season since 2001.