MIDLAND, Mich. - Now it really gets serious for the Great Lakes Loons.
The Loons, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Dow Diamond, are in the middle of a six-team race for one of two available Midwest League Eastern Division playoff berths. With just over a month remaining in the season, the race isn't far from entering the homestretch.
Now 17-19 in the season's second half following a road trip to Burlington and Peoria in which they won just two of six games, the Loons are a game behind Lansing and a half-game behind Lake County in the battle for Eastern Division playoff berths.
It's also worth noting that all of the Loons remaining 34 games are against Eastern Division teams, starting tonight with Fort Wayne. The TinCaps are in town for a three-game series which kicks off with a 7:05 p.m. game on Dodgers Route of Champions Night.
All but given up for dead three weeks ago, Fort Wayne now finds itself in the thick of things, as well. The Loons swept a three-game series from the TinCaps earlier this month while the latter was mired in a franchise-record 12-game losing streak.
But the TinCaps have won eight of their last 12 games and are only 2 ½ games behind Lake County for the second available playoff spot. They'll start right-hander Cody Hebner tonight, and he's provided consistent pitching to a staff that has dearly needed it.
Hebner, who appeared in 31 games with Advanced-A Lake Elsinore - all in relief - has assumed a starting role with the TinCaps and is 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA in four starts. A fourth-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2011, the 23-year-old Hebner also pitched for Fort Wayne in 2012.
The Loons will counter with 19-year-old right-hander Greg Harris, who will be going for his team-high eighth victory tonight. Harris (7-6, 4.86 ERA) is coming off of a strong start last Wednesday in which he pitched five scoreless innings against Burlington while allowing just two hits and striking out five.
After scoring 15 runs in six games on the just-completed road swing, the Loons will look to pick up the pace offensively against a Fort Wayne pitching staff that is giving up a league-worst 5.79 runs per game. Then again, Hebner has allowed just one earned run in his last 10 innings, while Wednesday's starter - Kyle Lloyd - is coming off of 5 2/3 innings of shutout work against Beloit, and lefty Jeffery Enloe, who starts Thursday, is 3-3 with a 2.05 ERA with Fort Wayne.
The Loons will start right-handers Brandon Martinez (1-6, 4.72) on Wednesday and Scott Barlow (4-5, 4.74) on Thursday.
The Great Lakes Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets and more information, visit loons.com or call 989-837-BALL.