By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
→Biloxi became the first Southern League club to punch a playoff ticket in 2015. These remarkable “road warriors” also became the first team besides Mobile to secure a first half South Division crown since 2011, clinching the title in Mississippi on Sunday. Fittingly, a road victory, in shutout fashion, over the second place Braves served as an exclamation point to complete the Shuckers historic first half journey.
→Chattanooga hopes to follow suit in the North at some point this week. The Lookouts have caught fire across their last ten contest to bring the division title within reach, winning all but one game (9-1) since the Tennessee series which saw the Smokies claim the initial four battles to briefly snatch the lead away. Chattanooga’s magic number sits at 2.
→Montgomery is making a bid to head into the All-Star break as the Southern League’s hottest team. The host club is riding a league-best six game winning streak and have also won nine of ten, but it appears to be too little, too late. Though still alive, the Biscuits will need a ton of help to jump both Tennessee and Chattanooga. Those are the only three teams remaining in the hunt for a playoff berth entering the final week of the season’s first half.
→Speaking of the upcoming All-Star Game, rosters and starting lineups were released by the Southern League this past week. “Eye on the Southern League” will have special All-Star coverage from Montgomery beginning next Monday. The festivities are scheduled for Tuesday night June 23 at Riverwalk Stadium.
Southern League Spotlight…
This week’s spotlight rests on Twins outfielder Byron Buxton. MLB’s top overall prospect (MLB.com) made the best of his call up this past week, scoring the winning run in his first Big League game.
Buxton came home with two down in the top of the ninth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on Sunday to help Minnesota snap their recent losing streak with a 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers.
The twenty-one year old Georgia native finished his time in the Southern League with a .283 average, 6 HR’s, 37 RBI’s, 12 triples and 20 stolen bases in 59 games with Chattanooga. Buxton will be remembered for leading the Lookouts right to the doorstep of a North Division first half championship before departing.
-Rankings listed use the format Baseball America/MLB.com-
Birmingham– Frankie Montas (#5/#2) grabbed headlines last Tuesday with a 7 inning no-hitter, the 30th all-time in the long and storied history of the Southern League. His final line: 7IP, 0R, 0H, 3BB, 3K’s.
The Barons followed up with an impressive five spot in the 7th inning of Thursday’s series opener with division leading Chattanooga, snapping the Lookouts six game winning streak. The game was marked by a 7-for-11 performance from the top of the order trio of Joey DeMichele, Chris Curley and the newly acquired Chris Marrero. The effective top third of the Barons order drove home all five runs in the contest.
Biloxi– Brooks Hall (#25/—) pitched superbly in the Shuckers division title clincher on Sunday, twirling eight innings of shutout ball to nail things down. Hall earned Pitcher of the Week honors by striking out five, walking just one and allowing only two Mississippi hits in the ballgame.
Outfielder Tyrone Taylor (#1/#2) also snagged honors after scoring eight runs and driving in eight off eleven hits this past week, over half of which were for extra bases. Two of the six extra base hits were big flies, he also mixed in a pair of stolen bases. Taylor’s second career weekly honor came nearly two years to the day of his Midwest League selection June 10, 2013.
Chattanooga– Top Twins pitching prospect Jose Berrios (#3/#4) left Sunday’s game with what is being called a leg contusion following three shutout frames after taking a line drive off his shin. Early reports say the right-hander, who is tied with the aforementioned Brooks Hall for the league lead in wins (7), is just fine and should not have to miss a start.
Jackson– Infielder Tyler Bortnick went 3-for-5, driving in half of the Generals run total with 3 RBI’s to help end Jackson’s 7 game skid on Thursday. Bortnick has accumulated seven hits and six RBI’s in the past 5 contests.
The Generals have won four in a row thanks to the added leadership of D.J. Peterson (#2/#2) and Dario Pizzano, the duo have a combined 3 homers, 10 RBI’s, and 7 runs scored across the clubs most recent five game stretch.
Mississippi– Highly regarded prospect Mallex Smith (BA SD #16) remained one of the few bright spots offensively for a Braves club that has not scored a run in the past 21 innings of game action. Smith led the team with six hits, two RBI’s and two runs scored across the past five games. The offensive drought came at the worst time for Mississippi, helping Biloxi lock down the South Division title in Pearl.
Montgomery– Boog Powell (BA Oak #21) has served as the catalyst for the Biscuits end of half surge. The talented outfielder went 15-for-37, posting a .405 average with 5 RBI’s and 10 Runs scored across the last ten contests. As a result, Powell catapulted himself into the league lead in batting average with a .339 overall mark on the season.
-Weekly honors handed down by the league office each Monday at Noon-
▪ Player of the Week: Tyrone Taylor (#1 MLB /#2 BA), OF, Biloxi
▪ Pitcher of the Week: Brooks Hall (#25 BA), RHP, Biloxi
-Biloxi completes the first sweep of weekly honors this season with the selections-
Series To Focus On…
Jacksonville Suns @ Chattanooga Lookouts
Wednesday June 17 – Sunday June 21
AT&T Field – Chattanooga, TN
It’s hard to beat a division clinching series. That is exactly what this is set up to be, unless everything falls Chattanooga’s way on Monday.
The Suns could play the role of spoiler, providing help to both the Smokies and Biscuits (teams with a pulse mathematically entering play this week), but it would take an extended Chattanooga losing streak and a Jacksonville road sweep to prevent a celebration on the banks of the Tennessee River.
Even if the Lookouts clinch prior to Jacksonville’s arrival, this serves as a rematch of the 2014 Southern League Championship Series. That alone stands as a solid first-half reminder of just how exciting playoff baseball in the Southland will be once all four 2015 post-season tickets are eventually claimed.
A Look At The Standings…