By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
→It’s August. Two post-season spots remain. Who could need further reason to head out to Southern League ballparks across the final thirty-five days of the 2015 regular season?
→Both division leaders maintained their post across the past seven days, a rarity in the second half. Birmingham increased its advantage to four over Montgomery, while Mobile sits two and one-half games ahead of both Mississippi and Pensacola.
→No team has strung together more than a pair of wins entering the season’s final full month. While Mobile and Tennessee share that distinction, the only noteworthy streak belongs to Jackson. Though still mathematically alive, the Generals may have sealed their 2015 fate with four straight losses to fall fourteen games off the pace in the North.
→Pensacola is in Jacksonville attempting to claim the Golden Skillet for the first time since Florida’s pan-handle rivalry was instituted in 2012. The Blue Wahoos need just two wins over the next four nights to take the season series from the defending champs and depart the River City with the skillet in tow.
Southern League Spotlight…
This week’s spotlight takes a final look back at the trade deadline, and beyond that, player movement during the 2015 season as a whole. For those who have wondered just how deeply Southern League Baseball is impacted by Major League deals, consider the following numbers:
Fifty-one trades were completed between opening day and last Friday’s non-waiver deadline. Twenty-seven (more than half) of those moves affected Southern League clubs in some form.
Interestingly, Fifteen trades occurred on July 31st itself, with eight of those transactions directly impacting MLB clubs with Southern League affiliates. While only one of the deadline deals was specifically between organizations with Southern League farm clubs, four such moves have been made this season.
The deadline deal in focus was an exchange between Chicago and Miami. Friday’s agreement ultimately sent Dan Haren from South Florida to the Windy City. To the casual observer, a pair of minor league players and cash considerations were involved in securing a solid arm for the Cubs playoff push. Southern League fans alone would truly grasp its underlying ramifications.
As Haren was preparing to board a plane for the north side’s Wrigley Field, Smokies shortstop Elliot Soto and pitcher Ivan Pineyro packed their bags and headed for the Sunshine State. They are now Marlins farm hands and no longer key components of Tennessee’s late push in the North Division pennant race.
The plight of this Double-A combo is representative of ball players around the country in larger numbers than space in this week’s “Eye” will accommodate the personal descriptions. It is, however, worth a moment’s pause to consider them as we wake up to a new look rosters around the Southern League heading into this first week of August.
-Rankings listed use the format Baseball America/MLB.com-
Montgomery– The Biscuits provided perhaps the most impressive single game efforts in the Southern League on the mound and at the plate this past week.
Rays pitching prospect Jamie Schultz owns the highlight mound performance. Schultz stuck out nine batters and did not allow a single hit across six innings Saturday. The stellar effort earned the right-hander well-deserved Pitcher of the Week honors for a second time this season.
Tyler Goedell (#17/#26) delivered the offensive headlines with his three-homer game on Thursday night. Goedell is the first player in Biscuits history to accomplish the feat. The infielder nearly matched his entire season home run total which stood at four prior to the power display.
Tennessee– Cubs catching prospect Wilson Contreras (-/#11) earned player of the week honors by putting every aspect of his plate game together across the full seven day period. Contreras hit .478, scored seven times and notched eleven hits across the Smokies past six games. He has also driven home eight runs across the club’s past ten. The sudden numbers boost pulled the backstop within four points of Max Kepler’s league leading .328 batting average.
Jeimer Candelario (#24/#20) separated himself as a switch hitting specialist during Tennessee’s most recent five game stretch by batting .427 with a homer, 2 runs scored and 4 driven in. Among the Smokies, only Contreras is swinging a hotter stick than Candelario in recent days.
Mobile– BayBears closer Silvino Bracho converted nine of ten save attempts in the month of July, earning the righty BC Powder Relief Pitcher of Month designation. The Diamondbacks farmhand also posted an 0.71 E.R.A. during the thirty-one day period in which he claimed the award.
Speaking of monthly awards, the BayBears racked them up in July. Zack Borenstein’s (#26/-) .333 average which included 5 homers, 12 extra base hits and 31 RBI’s were more than enough to secure Player of the Month honors. Borenstein logged 11 multi-RBI games in July. His efforts, alongside Sacrates Brito’s (#19/#15) .389 clip with a homer, 5 RBI’s and 7 scored across the past ten games have led Mobile to the top in the South Division.
Biloxi– Jorge Lopez’s (#15/#9) most recent outing is worth a mention. Eight strong innings of shutout ball in which he scattered six hits and struck out that exact number earned the right-hander his 10th victory of the season.
Jackson– One swing of Jordy Lara’s (#15/#10) bat provide a lift for both a Mariners prospect looking for traction and the struggling Generals as a unit. Lara’s Grand Slam on Tuesday night stood as the decisive blow in the club’s impressive 7-5 win over first-half South Division champion Biloxi.
Birmingham– Tim Anderson (#2/#1) is one stolen base shy of 40 on the year. The White Sox prospect swiped his league leading 39th bag in Sunday’s game against the Smokies. Anderson, who has eleven more stolen bases than his closest competitor, has also homered and scored four times alongside two RBI’s during the Barons most recent five game stretch.
Chattanooga– Playoff tickets went on sale this week at AT&T Field. With the way German product Max Kepler (#12/#7) continues to swing the bat, fans may want to snatch them up quickly in hopes that he’ll still be around to rake in mid-September. Kepler maintained his grip on the top spot in the race for the batting title this past week, as noted above. The outfielder is hitting .306 with a trio of homers, 9 RBI’s and 6 runs scored across the Lookouts past ten contests.
Starter Jason Wheeler (-/#26) is returning to form, as evidenced by eight shutout frames on Thursday. The southpaw bounced back from his second loss of the season by returning to .500 personally in Southern League action with the six strikeout performance.
-Weekly honors handed down by the league office each Monday at Noon-
▪ Player of the Week: Wilson Contreras (Cubs), C/DH, Tennessee
▪ Pitcher of the Week: Jamie Schultz (Rays), RHP, Montgomery
Series To Focus On…
Birmingham Barons @ Tennessee Smokies
Sunday, August 2 – Thursday, August
If Tennessee’s prior series in Montgomery was of great importance, the current five game tilt raises the bar even higher. The Smokies host the division leaders for a five game showdown this week while teetering on the edge of playoff contention.
The next four days at Smokies Park could very well determine the home team’s post-season fate. Round one fell Tennessee’s direction on Sunday by a final of 5-2. The work continues tonight with the Barons remaining in Kodak thru Thursday.