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The Journal Gazette

Monday, September 03, 2018 1:30 pm

Pregame: TinCaps (32-36) vs. West Michigan (32-36)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

COMSTOCK PARK, Michigan – The TinCaps' season has come down to one game. With one more win over the West Michigan Whitecaps, Fort Wayne will be playoff-bound for the ninth time in 10 seasons. If the TinCaps lose, they'll be going home for the winter. The stakes couldn't be higher when Fort Wayne and West Michigan take the field at 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Ballpark this afternoon.

For their most important game of the season, the TinCaps have the luxury of sending their hottest pitcher to the mound. With MacKenzie Gore, Osvaldo Hernandez and Luis Patiño shut down for the season, Fort Wayne will turn to left-hander Tom Cosgrove, who has pitched magnificently as the de facto ace of the rotation over the last two weeks. The 22-year-old has given up just two runs in 17 innings over his last three starts since Aug. 17, while striking out 22 and walking only five. He's been one of Fort Wayne's most effective pitchers dating back to mid-July, posting a 2.18 ERA and 51 strikeouts in his last eight starts. The last time he faced West Michigan, Cosgrove went five innings and gave up two runs while striking out six and walking none. He got the win in that matchup, one of only three victories he's notched this season.

The Whitecaps will counter with 20-year-old Jesus Rodriguez, who is in his fourth year of pro baseball. The 6-foot-3 right-hander has gone 5-7 with a middling 4.54 ERA this season in 21 starts, all with West Michigan, and strikes out fewer than seven hitters per nine innings. His control is average, so the TinCaps can take a few pitches early in their at-bats and be confident Rodriguez probably won't overpower them if they fall behind in the count. The slender right-hander has pitched three times against the TinCaps this season and turned in quality starts in two of them, including a seven-inning, two-run performance in his most recent outing on June 23. In the third outing, however, Fort Wayne tagged him for six runs on 10 hits in four innings. The TinCaps have won two of the games Rodriguez has started against them.

Both teams will go with the same lineups they sent to the field in Game 2 of the series Sunday, which ended in a 2-1 Whitecaps victory. The wild card in the TinCaps' lineup will be right-fielder Agustin Ruiz, who is playing just his fourth game with Fort Wayne since being called up from short-season Tri-City on Aug. 31. He had two hits in each of the first two games, including three doubles, and walked twice in Sunday's matchup. He leads all of minor-league baseball with 10 triples since June 19. Outside of Ruiz, the TinCaps will rely on their dangerous middle of the lineup, with Jack Suwinski, Owen Miller and Gabriel Arias hitting Nos. 2-4 in the order. All three have been red-hot in recent weeks.

The one unknown factor for this game is the weather. As I type this, dark clouds hang over the stadium and there were intermittent bouts of rain while I drove from Fort Wayne this morning. The teams will do everything they can to get this game in (including waiting out a multi-hour rain delay), but in the event the game is canceled, the TinCaps will make the playoffs by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker over the Whitecaps. Game on.

dsinn@jg.net