Joe Saunders gets Game 4 start with Orioles’ season on the line, again

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For the second time in a week the Orioles will turn to Joe Saunders with their season on the line.

Saunders, who started the Wild Card playoff game against the Rangers last Friday, will take the mound tonight against the Yankees with the Orioles facing elimination down 2-1. Buck Showalter opted to go with Saunders over Chris Tillman, who went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts during the regular season.

Saunders had a far less impressive 9-13 record and 4.07 ERA during the regular season and made just seven starts for the Orioles after coming over in a trade with the Diamondbacks for little in return on August 26.

As a left-hander facing a lineup full of right-handed power hitters the matchup versus Texas couldn’t have been any worse for Saunders on paper,  yet he tossed 5.2 innings of one-run ball to erase some really ugly career numbers against the Rangers. And now after beating the AL’s highest-scoring offense Saunders will go up against the league’s No. 2 offense, although the Yankees don’t have as much scary right-handed power.

And if Saunders comes through again tonight the Orioles will turn to Jason Hammel in Game 5.

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.

The Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field

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Don’t look now, but the Nationals have the best record in baseball at 16-6. They’re coming off a 10-game road trip in which they went 9-1, including sweeps of the Braves and Mets and a 3-1 series against the Rockies at Coors Field. During that series with the Rockies, the Nationals scored 46 runs, which is nearly as many as the Royals (54) have scored all season long. The Nats scored double-digits in all three wins.

The first game at Coors, an 8-4 loss, saw a three-hit game from Anthony Rendon and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

The second game featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and driving in seven runs. Daniel Murphy had three hits and five RBI.

The third game saw Turner finish a triple short of the cycle. Bryce Harper had four hits. Zimmerman had three hits including a homer. Murphy homered, too.

The fourth game featured homers from Adam Eaton, Harper, and Murphy. Seven members of the lineup had multiple hits and six had multiple RBI including pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

The series helped the Nationals bring their run differential to +34, the best in the National League. The Yankees are the only team with a better differential at +35.

Indeed, the Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field. They return home to open up a three-game set with the ailing Mets on Friday night.