Cashner debuts for Miami against Wild Card-rival Cardinals
By Matt Kelly
With Monday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline quickly approaching, many of the teams in action today could look significantly different by the Deadline. Indeed, today's games could serve as one final showcase for many players potentially on the trading block.
In the meantime, the jockeying on the field right now is as important to teams' postseason hopes as the games being played between their general managers. No matchup today is probably more important than the showdown north of the border between American League East-leading Toronto and second-place Baltimore.
Meanwhile, in the National League, a trade piece already dealt will make his debut in a game with Wild Card implications in Miami. And in Cleveland, a struggling ace may feel a boost from his club's recently stated confidence in him.
It's all happening today, and it's all available for viewing on MLB.TV.
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Here's what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Tillman, Sanchez battle at Rogers Centre: BAL@TOR, 1:07 p.m.
Baltimore has held and lost an outright lead in the ultra-competitive AL East on six occasions this season, and the O's will need to show some resilience again today after the Jays leapfrogged them with a 9-1 drubbing on Saturday to take a half-game lead. While Baltimore's brass continues to search for an answer for the back end of its rotation, the staff's ace is pitching just fine. Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.47 ERA) has yet to lose in nine starts against division opponents (6-0). Though he endured a six-run blip against the Rockies in his last outing, on Tuesday, Tillman is shutting down the big bats. Over his last three starts, hitters in the heart of the order (3-4-5) have combined for just one hard-hit ball in 25 at-bats.
The Blue Jays have their own emerging star in Aaron Sanchez, who is currently leading the Junior Circuit with a 2.72 ERA. The 24-year-old right-hander would be a legitimate contender for the AL Cy Young Award if he maintains this pace. The problem is that he'll toe the rubber today just one inning shy of his career-high mark -- 133 1/3 -- set in 2014 between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors. That has many speculating that Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen in the coming weeks.
Stat that matters: One fact that Sanchez could use to argue his case for staying in the rotation is his lack of stressful innings this year. In fact, Sanchez has endured only four frames this season of at least 30 pitches.
One of those four came against the Orioles on June 12, when Sanchez needed 32 pitches to get through the fifth inning. That was the final frame that day for the righty in an outing in which he allowed a season-high six earned runs.
Cashner debuts for Marlins: STL@MIA, 1:10 p.m.
A recent hot streak for Andrew Cashner -- in which he went 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA over three starts, including a win over the Giants' Madison Bumgarner -- inspired the Marlins to orchestrate a massive seven-player deal with the Padres to get him. But with fellow acquisition Colin Rea exiting with right elbow soreness on Saturday in his debut for Miami, the pressure is on Cashner to deliver right away as the Marlins jockey with the Cardinals for NL Wild Card positioning.
St. Louis has no such concern about its starter today, Carlos Martinez. The right-hander has gone 3-0 in July and seen his rate of strikeouts per nine innings skyrocket to 9.8 after he averaged 6.9 K/9 in the first three months of the season.
And don't forget about the incredible Ichiro Suzuki, who is sitting on 2,998 career hits after going hitless in the first two games of this series. Ichiro is 0-for-1 in his career against Martinez.
Stat that matters: If Cashner wants to continue his success, he would do well to avoid the dreaded leadoff walk. He's walked the first batter in 14.5 percent of his innings this year -- a rate that is the highest of any qualified starter in the Majors.
Gray has A's confidence: OAK@CLE, 1:10 p.m.
The 2016 season has undoubtedly been one to forget for Oakland's Sonny Gray. He's already allowed as many runs (71) in 19 starts this year as he did in 31 starts over his entire 2015 campaign, which saw him finish third in AL Cy Young Award voting. Once among the Majors' best pitchers at keeping the ball in the park, Gray has given up a staggering average of 1.4 homers per nine innings in 2016, which ranked 13th highest in the AL entering Saturday.
But as tough as this season has been for Gray, he appears to have assurance that he'll stay in an Oakland uniform for his start today and for the remainder of the year. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported on Saturday that Gray is "going nowhere" at the Deadline, which makes sense given that the 26-year old will be under team control through the end of 2019.
Opposing Gray for the AL Central-leading Indians will be ace Corey Kluber. The 2014 Cy Young Award winner is peaking at the right time, having allowed only four runs in his last 22 innings.
Stat that matters: Kluber is 0-4 in four career starts (five appearances) against the A's, who have posted a .783 OPS against Kluber in those outings, the second-highest mark of any AL team behind Toronto's .869. Kluber has also averaged just 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings against Oakland, well below his career rate of 9.4 K/9.
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Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.