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8/15: Open game thread

James Paxton vs. Rick Porcello.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It's starting to get to the point where I expect the Mariners to win every day. I haven't felt that way about a team in a couple of years, and I'm a little wary of the emotion, but the M's have been scorching hot this month and it feels good to recover some confidence in this club.

James Paxton will be taking the mound tonight after an outstanding performance against the White Sox last week. Although Seattle's bats went down swinging 2-1, Paxton pitched a smooth 6 1/3 innings, striking out four batters and giving up a run on six hits. Lloyd McClendon has started calling him the glue of the team, the late-season free agent signing, the patch that doesn't come loose.

Off the mound, Austin Jackson will face his old team for the first time since his arrival to the Pacific Northwest. Detroit right-hander Rick Porcello is slated to make the start following an emergency relief appearance in the Tigers' 19-inning loss to the Rangers last Sunday. Porcello is 13-7 on the year, with a 3.70 xFIP and 2.6 fWAR. In his last five starts, he's held opponents to three runs or fewer per outing and struck out a season-best 10 batters during his 13th win against the Rockies. When the Detroit News' Chris McCosky asked the 25-year-old how he will respond to Jackson in the batter's box, he had just two words for his former teammate: "Stone cold."

This week, Logan picked the brain of Bless You Boys' Rob Rogacki for some insights into the Tigers' recent performances. Here's what Rob had to say about Robbie Ray, Nick Castellanos' struggles, and the theatrics of Joe Nathan:

1) For the first time in forever, the Tigers look vulnerable. What's happened to the team to knock them out of first place?

A lot of things have contributed to this rough stretch, but nearly all of them can be lumped into one of two categories: bad luck and bad baseball.

On the luck side of the ledger, we see that the Tigers were leading the AL Central by five games after sweeping the Colorado Rockies on August 3rd. Since then, they have lost seven games and are 1-4 in one-run games. Two of the other losses were also close, determined by a pivotal play or two that did not go their way. Two starting pitchers -- Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez -- have gone down with injuries, forcing them to dip into their non-existent starting pitching depth in the minor leagues. In addition to their rotten luck, the Kansas City Royals have gone 9-1. If we back up to the beginning of the month, they are 11-2 in August, including 5-2 against the AL West-leading Oakland A's.

However, there has been plenty of bad baseball to spread around as well. The Tigers only scored six runs in four games at Yankee Stadium and just barely avoided getting swept. Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain both coughed up ninth inning leads during the next series in Toronto, where the Tigers dropped two of three. They have a team OPS of .704 this month (prior to today's game against the Pirates) and just .692 since the All-Star break. Only six Tigers hitters have a wRC+ above 100 since the All-Star break, and one of them plays for you now. Another -- career minor league Ezequiel Carrera -- has just 24 big league plate appearances this season.

If that wasn't bad enough, things hit rock bottom on Wednesday when Joe Nathan gave Tigers fans a warm Italian greeting after the team's first win in nearly a week. Another victory this afternoon has helped quell the storm, and it seems that the worst is over. Well, until King Felix steps on the rubber on Saturday, that is.

2) How's Robbie Ray doing? Does the Doug Fister trade look any better in retrospect?

I wish I could just say "no" and be done with this question, but the true answer is more complicated than that. Many fans were unhappy about the decision to trade Doug Fister, and his performance for the Nationals this season -- truncated as it may be -- isn't helping matters. Fister has dominated in Washington while Ray and left-hander Ian Krol have not been quite so impressive.

If anything, Krol has been the bigger disappointment thus far. Labeled by many as a LOOGY before he even donned the Olde English D, Krol has been exactly that during the best of times. Lately, however, the wheels have fallen off. Over the last two months, Krol has allowed 11 runs on 17 hits in nine innings sandwiched around a trip to the disabled list and a demotion to Triple A. Once considered the heir apparent to Drew Smyly in the bullpen, now Krol's position on a hypothetical playoff roster is in serious doubt.

As for Ray, the most appropriate response is "it's still too early." He has made four starts this year, including Tuesday's outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has looked good at times, such as when he allowed one run in 11 1/3 innings against the Astros and Twins in May. He has also looked like a fringe starter, such as when the Texas Rangers smacked him around for seven runs in 3 1/3 frames. Tuesday's start was a mix of the two, as he had trouble commanding his fastball, yet only gave up two runs in five innings before the bullpen allowed a pair of inherited runners to score. The stuff is there -- his transition from a curveball to a slider seems to have helped him dominate lefties in the minors -- but the command still needs a lot of work.

3) Nick Castellanos has been pretty mediocre in his Tigers career to date. Was he just an overrated prospect, or is there upside the stats aren't showing?

Castellanos has definitely looked like a rookie at times this season, going through long stretches where he struggles on both sides of the ball. His defense has left a lot to be desired, as defensive metrics show virtually no difference between him and Miguel Cabrera in 2013. He has looked downright lost at times on the basepaths, yet somehow, searching for his name on the TOOTBLAN tracker website turns up zero results.

However, Castellanos was always a bat-first prospect, and it is at the plate where he has shown a lot more promise than the numbers suggest. His contact rate is among the worst in the majors, but his 27.1 percent line drive rate and .325 BABIP help make up for the high whiff totals. He has hit into a lot of loud outs this season, and his tendency to spray the ball from foul line to foul line doesn't always pay dividends in Comerica Park's large outfield. His 8.0 percent home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB) will begin to reverse itself as he continues to grow into his lanky frame. If anything, his .865 OPS and .265 ISO since the All-Star break suggest that some of it is already beginning to show.

4) It seems like every time I click over to BYB I see a new article about Joe Nathan screwing up. Regale us with some Tales of Joe.

As I mentioned earlier, Joe Nathan endeared himself to the fans by shooting more than an arrow at them after he closed out Wednesday night's win over the Pirates. Nathan has since apologized for his gesture, but this may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. He has struggled to close out games all season long, and has looked every bit as bad as the numbers suggest.

That said, he has looked like the Nathan of old for short stretches, such as a six week gap in April and May when he posted a 1.69 ERA and a 17:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 innings. Unfortunately, there aren't many other options available, especially now that Joakim Soria is on the disabled list. Nathan is the Tigers' closer for better or worse, leaving many of us hopeful that he gets hot at the right time in September and October.

You can find Logan's answers about the Mariners' squad here.

Game info

  • Mariners @ Tigers, 4:08 p.m. PST
  • Today's game will be televised on ROOT Sports, broadcast on 710 ESPN, and available to out-of-market viewers at MLB TV here (this game is free for non-subscribers).

Today's Lineups

Austin Jackson - CF Rajai Davis - CF
Dustin Ackley - LF Ian Kinsler - 2B
Robinson Cano - 2B Miguel Cabrera - 1B
Kendrys Morales - DH Victor Martinez - DH
Kyle Seager - 3B Torii Hunter - RF
Mike Zunino - C J.D. Martinez - LF
Logan Morrison - 1B Nick Castellanos - 3B
Endy Chavez - RF Bryan Holaday - C
Chris Taylor - SS Eugenio Suarez - SS
James Paxton - LHP Rick Porcello - RHP