By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
→Just how tight was the South Division race at one point this past week? All 5 clubs in were locked into a first place tie with identical 7-7 records entering Friday’s action.
→Barons are on fire. Birmingham has won five in a row and nine of ten, having already posted 13 wins in the second half. All this adds up to a sizable five game advantage in the North Division.
→Pensacola has also won five straight. The Blue Wahoos have finally caught lightning in a bottle (just check out the video of the force of nature actually hitting the Bayfront Stadium scoreboard prior to Sunday’s game). But seriously, the fish have gone from worst to first in a span of just one week.
→Mississippi extended its winning streak to four games with an improbable six run ninth at AT&T Field on Sunday. The shocking 11-10 road victory over Chattanooga kept the Braves tied with Pensacola atop the South Division standings entering play this week.
→Half the teams in the Southern League have reversed their fortunes completely from one half of baseball to the next. 5 clubs which finished below .500 across the first seventy games are either at or above the benchmark thus far in the 2nd half. (Birmingham, Pensacola, Mississippi, Mobile, Montgomery)
→Following a league-wide off day on Tuesday, teams will begin to cross over the 50 to go mark this week, meaning nearly two thirds of the season is already in the books.
Southern League Spotlight…
This week’s spotlight rests on former Tennessee Smokies catcher and highly regarded Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber. The 2014 first round selection earned MVP honors at this year’s Futures Game held in his native state of Ohio.
Schwarber snatched headlines in Cincinnati by driving in a pair of runs with a third inning triple, breaking 1-1 tie and placing the U.S. Team ahead for good. The Americans ended up routing the World Squad 10-1 in the contest. The twenty-two year old backstop remained in action for five full innings behind the plate.
The 2015 season has already been quite a whirlwind for Schwarber, who has spent time in both Double-A and Triple-A, in addition to seeing a week’s worth of action with the big league club. Sunday’s showcase performance reinforces the widespread belief that he will be another consistent young contributor in the lineup on the North side of Chicago sooner rather than later.
Also of interest: Ketel Marte (Mariners, Generals) went 2-for-2, driving in the World Team’s only run; while Jose Berrios (Twins, former Lookout) started for the international club and pitched a scoreless first inning. Blake Snell (Rays, Biscuits) also pitched well, logging a scoreless frame in the middle innings for the United States. Kyle Waldrop (Reds, Blue Wahoos) came up with a hit and a run scored in his organization’s home ballpark. Southern League umpire J.J. January worked second base on the four man crew.
-This week’s ranking provided by MLB.com-
Biloxi– Orlando Arcia (#1) became the first Southern League player to reach 100 hits on the season with a single on Friday night. The 100th base knock followed a three-hit performance which included two doubles and three RBI’s on Thursday for the Brewers affiliate.
Montgomery– Joey Rickurd made some unusual Southern League history this past week by drawing six walks in a single contest. Rickurd’s patience paid off during Thursday’s game, notching one-fourth of his walks total the season. He now has 24 of them to go along with his impressive .302 average.
Austin Pruitt had his way with the Biloxi lineup on the mound this past Tuesday, becoming the sixteenth Southern League pitcher to work a complete game this season. The three hit, five strikeout performance made him just the fourth to go the distance and pick up a shutout.
Birmingham– While the Barons have used a very balanced approach to take a commanding lead in the North, both Brian Fletcher and Courtney Hawkins (#8) have blasted a pair of homers during the ten game run. Christian Marrero has driven home nine runs during the same stretch.
Starter Miles Jaye’s seven shutout innings with eight K’s against Tennessee on Wednesday has emerged as the best pitching performance during the run thus far.
Pensacola– Eight scoreless innings for right-hander Josh Smith were marked by ten punch outs in his most recent start for the Reds farm club, picking up his fourth win and keeping his E.R.A. well under two across 33 Double-A innings in five starts.
Highly rated infield prospect Jessie Winker (#2) has provided much of the offense during Pensacola’s surge, pounding out eleven hits and driving home ten runs across the past ten Wahoos contests. He is batting .344 during the clip with a homer and four runs scored.
Chattanooga– Adam Brett Walker (#12) was selected by the league as Player of the Month for June after hitting .317 with a .758 slugging percentage alongside eleven homers and nineteen extra base hits. Walker’s home run and RBI numbers on the year continue to climb seemingly daily, he leads the league in both categories by sizable margins with 24 (+9) and 74 (+18) respectively.
Mobile- Zach Borenstein homered twice and has driven in twelve runs across his last ten game. The Diamondbacks outfielder is hitting and impressive .333 during that clip.
Reliever Silvino Brancho converted on back to back save attempts this week. The right-hander is 6-for-7 on save attempts this season with an E.R.A. of 1.80 in 25 innings pitched for the BayBears.
Tennessee– The league also announced that PJ Francescon was tabbed as Relief Pitcher of the Month for June. The Cubs righty prospect notched eight scoreless innings across the course of the month with seven K’s, holding opponents to a .183 batting average.
Offensively, Stephen Bruno and Billy McKinney (#5) have driven in four runs apiece during the Smokies past five games.
Jacksonville– Matt Juengel was selected the Marlins minor league player of the month in June after the power surge which lifted his average to .257 and his home run total to 14. This stands second among active Southern League players. The outfielder has an equal amount of doubles and three triples to his credit in 2015.
Carlos Lopez has notched a club best ten hits with a pair of homers and a team leading seven runs scored across the last week and a half of action.
Mississippi– The Braves needed a spark following the late June promotion of speedster Mallex Smith (#15) whose .340 average still stands as the top mark in the league well after his departure. They may have found that spark in third baseman Kevin Ahrens. Across the past ten games Ahrens is hitting .333 with 3 HR’s, 12 RBI’s and 10 Runs scored. He is easily a major reason why Mississippi is tied for first down South.
Another is shortstop Emerson Landoni, his .425 average with 10 scored and 5 driven in were the result of a team best 17 hits across the same ten contests.
Pitching remains strong for the Braves as well, look no farther than Andrew Barbosa, who allowed just three hits across seven shutout innings during which he struck out twelve batters and sat down the first fourteen he faced in order. Quite a debut in Pearl for the southpaw.
Jackson– Though he will be remembered for somewhat of a rough outing at the Futures Game on Sunday, Edwin Diaz (#6) delivered six innings of one hit ball last Monday for the Generals, a glimpse into his potential dominance.
Mariners prospect Jordy Lara (#13) put together a strong week which included a string of three consecutive multi-hit games and seven RBI’s in his five games just ahead of also making the trip to Cincinnati. D.J. Peterson (#2) held down the fort in Jackson, with a team high four runs driven in across the final five games of the week.
-Weekly honors handed down by the league office each Monday at Noon-
▪ Player of the Week: Emerson Landoni (Braves), INF, Mississippi
▪ Pitcher of the Week: Austin Pruitt (Rays), RHP, Montgomery
Series To Focus On…
Pensacola Blue Wahoos @ Birmingham Barons
July 15 – July 19
If they remain in tact throughout play on Monday, someone’s league-best six game winning streak will be snapped in the opener of this series. More importantly, both teams will be looking to remain atop their respective divisions entering the five game set.
This series stands as a battle of the two hottest teams in the Southern League. Fans making the trip to Regions Park for this Wednesday thru Sunday showdown will be treated to some outstanding baseball between teams that are pitching well and simply refusing to lose of late.
A Look At The Standings…