As recently as two weeks ago Michael Saunders appeared to be in danger of playing himself out of the Mariners’ plans. He was hitting .226, had a career batting average under .200, and remained an everyday player largely due to the Mariners not having better options in center field.
And then something clicked for Saunders in a big way. He went 3-for-5 against the Rangers on May 29, notched three more hits the next day, had four hits two games later, tallied another three hits Tuesday, and kept rolling last night by going 3-for-5 versus the Angels.
Add it all up and Saunders went 18-for-36 (.500) with two homers and five doubles in an eight-game stretch, producing at least three hits in five of those games. To put that in some context, Saunders didn’t have three hits in any of his first 48 games this season and managed three hits just once in 58 games last season.
Eight games are only eight games, obviously, but Saunders’ minor-league track record always suggested he was capable of developing into a solid hitter and at age 25 he might finally be on track. And right now he’s the only Mariners hitter with an OPS above .800. His OPS eight days ago? .691.
One team has punched its ticket to the Fall Classic. Two teams are looking to join them, with the Dodgers carrying the distinct advantage. Los Angeles needs only a split in the final two games of the NLCS while Milwaukee needing to win both games at home. Doable? Absolutely. But to do it, the Brewers are going to have to wake up their sleepy bats.
NLCS Game 6
Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:39 PM Eastern
Pitchers: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs Wade Miley
The Dodgers will give the ball to left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who tossed seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but allowed two runs and tossed 72 pitches, failing to get out of the fifth inning, in Game 2 against Milwaukee. Even if he again turns in a short outing Dave Roberts should feel pretty confident, however, as the Dodgers’ bullpen — considered a question mark coming into this series — has allowed only three runs in in 21 and two-thirds innings of work.
For Milwaukee it’s once again Wade Miley, who was the Game 5 “starter,” but who pitched to only one batter. I suppose it’s possible that Craig Counsell will burn him like that again, but it seems more likely that Miley will actually pitch in this game rather than be used as a decoy.
As I noted the other day, though, the Brewers’ pitching gamesmanship has not really been a factor in this series. The real problem for them has been their offense. They’ve scored only 16 runs in five games while batting .219. That’s actually identical to the Dodgers’ run total and average overall, but L.A. has been better at distributing that meager offense. Milwaukee has been cold at the worst times, too, going 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position in the series, including one for their last 11. If that doesn’t change, their season ends tonight.