Three up, three down: Tigers, Mariners clicking
Pirates, Braves, Blue Jays among teams going through tough stretch
Torii Hunter has joined the Tigers' hit parade. Detroit has won eight of its last 10 games, extending its lead in the American League Central to 4 1/2 games over Minnesota, and Hunter has keyed an offense that is averaging 6.7 runs per game and leading the Majors with a .319 average over the stretch.
Hitting .222 on April 19, Hunter is 23-for-54 with 12 RBIs in 12 games since, a solid complement to Miguel Cabrera, who is hitting .371 with nine RBIs over the last 10 games, and Victor Martinez, who has hit .367 with eight RBIs.
The offense has been so explosive that the Tigers have had only two save opportunities in the eight wins. A key for Detroit is that Max Scherzer is on a roll. He's won both starts in the last 10 games, and he is 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his last three starts.
Yes, the Pirates beat the Blue Jays in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. That, however, was only the third time the Bucs have won two games in a row this year and the first since victories on April 6 and 8 over the Cardinals and Cubs, respectively. The Pirates have lost 11 of their last 15 games, and have gone from three games out of the National League Central lead to 8 1/2 games back and just percentage points ahead of the last-place Cubs.
The Bucs lost three key players to the disabled list in the last two weeks -- left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez (right knee inflammation), closer Jason Grilli (left oblique strain) and catcher Russell Martin (left hamstring strain).
Andrew McCutchen has continued to play like one of the game's true stars, hitting .345 with nine home runs and 14 RBIs in the last 15 games, but Pittsburgh also has three regulars hitting below .200 during that stretch -- Jordy Mercer (.094), Travis Snider (.182) and Ike Davis (.190). The pitching staff has crumbled. The Pirates not only have a 4.20 ERA since April 15, but the rotation is 0-8 with a 5.12 ERA in the 15-game stretch.
Sure, in winning seven of their last nine games, the Mariners have failed to pick up any ground on the AL West-leading Athletics. Seattle was four games out when it started and is still four games back. But on Monday, the Mariners go into Oakland for a four-game series with the A's that includes a makeup doubleheader on Wednesday, and they have regained some confidence that was shaken 10 days ago.
The nine-game resurgence comes on the heels of a stretch in which the Mariners lost 10 of 11 -- including the final eight -- and fell from the division lead into fourth place. What's more, the only two losses in their last nine games have come in the games started by Felix Hernandez, who has allowed five runs in 11 innings and has seen Seattle lose its last four games that he has started.
The offense has carried the load in the Mariners' recovery, led by third baseman Kyle Seager, who had two RBIs and a .156 average in his first 64 at-bats, but is 13-for-37 with five home runs and 14 RBIs over the last nine games. Seattle has also dealt with the struggles of Abraham Almonte (.198) by giving expanded playing time to Michael Saunders, who is 8-for-19 in the last four games.
The Braves won seven of their first eight series of the season. They didn't lose back-to-back games in those 24 contests. So much for the smooth sailing. Atlanta goes into this week having lost six in a row after being swept in three-games series at Miami and then at home by San Francisco.
And it hasn't been pretty. A pitching staff that had a best-in-baseball 2.04 ERA the first four weeks of the season was hit with a 5.65 mark last week. Only the Mets (6.17) had a higher ERA in the NL, but they had the excuse of four games at Coors Field. The Braves' rotation was a combined 0-5 with a 6.95 ERA.
It's not like the offense provided any help. Jason Heyward (.333) and Chris Johnson (.263) were the only regulars with an average above .222 last week. The Brothers Upton had six RBIs (four by B.J. and two by Justin), while the rest of the team combined to drive in three runs. Oh, and the last game Atlanta won? It was against Cincinnati on April 27 by a 1-0 score in 10 innings.
Battling to stay above .500, the Giants pulled out a 12-10, 11-inning victory over the Rockies on April 23, and now look at them. They have won nine of their last 10, climbed from third to first in the NL West, and they have their pitching staff bringing back memories of the World Series championships in 2010 and '12.
While the Giants allowed 10 runs in that win against the Rockies, they have allowed only 16 runs in the nine games since -- just 10 in the eight wins. They are coming off a sweep in Atlanta in which the Braves scored one run in each of the three games. Tim Hudson continues to make a strong comeback. He's not only 4-1 in six starts (surrendering just two runs in his only loss), but he is 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA during the surge.
Ryan Vogelsong has been sweet music for San Francisco, too. He has allowed one run in 13 innings in his two starts over the last 10 games.
And the offense, well it has been hitting long balls -- 20 home runs in 10 games -- and scoring enough runs to win, even though Pablo Sandoval is creating an impression that the pressure of his pending free agency is a load he can't handle. He has hit .172 in the 10 games with more strikeouts (nine) than total bases (eight). Michael Morse, however, is enjoying his arrival on the West Coast, and he has hit .375 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in the last 10 games.
DOWN: Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are only 2 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, but it's more of a result based on the state of affairs in the division than testimony to Toronto's recent efforts. The Blue Jays have lost eight of their last 11 games.
The struggles underscore the importance of the bullpen. Toronto's rotation is 3-3 with a 4.94 ERA in the last 11 games. And the Blue Jays' offense has compiled a .279 batting average during that stretch -- the second best in the AL -- and averaged 5.5 runs per game, third best in the AL.
There is, however, no relief in sight. Not only has the bullpen gone 0-5 and blown three of four save opportunities, but it has combined for an 8.55 ERA since April 23, the highest in the Majors. Steve Delabar (2.68) and J.A. Happ (3.86) are the only members of the bullpen with an ERA lower than 4.76 in the last 11 games.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.