By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
→It happened. Last week’s discussion about the potential of new leaders in both divisions by today’s press time became reality. It’s official, the 2015 stretch run is set up to be unpredictable and extremely engaging.
→Biscuits and BayBears dominated key head to head series this past week, bringing to pass the changes at the top. They also own the league’s most impressive streaks, Montgomery leading the way as winners of six in a row.
→Pennant Races are still very tight. Five teams currently without playoff tickets are within one game of their division lead. For those counting, that’s half the Southern League.
→All eyes are on Birmingham’s Regions Field tonight. The Biscuits-Barons finale is a straight up primetime battle for first place. It is also the only scheduled game on this late August travel day.
→Speaking of late August and speaking of counting, roughly three weeks remain in the 2015 regular season. Just 22 games are left for each of the division frontrunners to be specific.
Southern League Spotlight…
This past week’s full slate of action requires dual spotlights. They rest on a pair of teammates in two different Southern League cities. This week’s spotlight segment is not only related to what has been accomplished, it’s as much about what still could be.
Jacob May joined teammate Tim Anderson in making history on August 11th when he became the 39th Southern League player to hit for the cycle. May provided an exclamation point to seal the deal on Tuesday, belting a three run homer for the final leg of the achievement.
Three Southern League players have accomplished the feat in 2015. It is remarkable that two of them occupy the same lineup. This type consistency from the speed combo of May and Anderson have kept Birmingham in the thick of things. The continue to hold down the top two spots in the season’s stolen base totals.
As for what could be…
In mid-July Pensacola catcher Kyle Skipworth flirted with Derek Lee’s record for consecutive games with a home run by going deep in five straight contests (for details, see the “Eye” from July 20). Now his teammate and highly regarded Reds prospect Jesse Winker is doing the same.
If Winker finds a way to leave the yard on Tuesday when the first half champs from the North Division visit Bayfront stadium, the outfielder would surpass Skipworth’s season best mark and match Lee’s all-time total in continued pursuit of the record.
-Rankings listed use the format Baseball America/MLB.comMLB.com-
-MLB.com ranking indicated for players not with current organization opening day-
Montgomery– Daniel Robertson (MLB.com #5) and Patrick Leonard (#26/#29) helped lead the way in the Biscuits surge to the top spot in the North. Baseball America’s top prospect in the A’s organization entering the season, Robertson, has proved to be a major impact player for the Biscuits. He posted an average over .350 during a five game stretch this past week while scoring a couple of runs and driving in another. Leonard belted a pair of home runs and posted four RBI’s during the same time span. Rays top catching prospect Justin O’Conner (#3/#8) also pitched in at the plate, homering and driving home five runs in a three game stretch mid-week.
Pensacola– Jesse Winker’s (#3/#1) power surge is just a part of Pensacola’s use of the long ball to thrust themselves into the thick of the pennant race. His impact, alongside the leadership of teammate Kyle Skipworth (their power displays documented above), makes it easy to see why the Wahoos are playing so well. The duo is now tied for the most homers since the All-Star break, securing 8 apiece. Winker’s string of homers earned him Player of the Week honors for the third time in his professional career, having already been selected for weekly honors in both the Midwest and Arizona Fall League.
Biloxi– Shuckers broadcaster Chris Harris provided a noteworthy piece the past week comparing Orlando Arcia’s (#2/#1) numbers to the aforementioned Tim Anderson’s in a look at two of the clear cut candidates in the race for 2015 MVP honors. Arcia keeps making a strong case by hitting right around .300 (currently .297) with 62 runs scored and 57 driven home. His 32 doubles lead the league.
Tennessee– Starter Ryan Williams (-/#30) earned Pitcher of the Week honors by logging two quality starts between August 10-16 which allowed him to post a 2-0 record and a sub-one E.R.A. (0.75), while leading the Southern League in innings pitched (12.0).
Chattanooga– Twins prospect Max Kepler (#12/#7) reclaimed control in the back and forth battle between he and Tennessee’s Wilson Contreras for the league’s batting title. Kepler raised his season mark to .335 with a solid week at the plate.
Birmingham– The specific steals numbers from teammates Tim Anderson (#2/#1) and Jacob May (#10/10) are worth a closer look. Anderson is still well out front of everyone else and on pace to break 50 with a league leading 45 swiped bags to this point. May sits one ahead of Jacksonville’s Kenny Wilson with 31 steals on the season.
-Weekly honors handed down by the league office each Monday at Noon-
▪ Player of the Week: Jesse Winker (Reds), OF, Pensacola
▪ Pitcher of the Week: Ryan Williams (Cubs), RHP, Tennessee
Series To Focus On…
Montgomery Biscuits @ Tennessee Smokies
Tuesday August 18 – Saturday August 22
The Southern League’s newest first place team will attempt to stay there with an effective series against the Smokies. This may be Tennessee’s best remaining chance to position themselves well heading down the stretch run toward the often elusive post-season berth.
Also worthy of honorable mention is the series taking place in Pearl. Birmingham visits the Braves for a matchup which will affect both division races. With a little help from Mississippi, the Smokies could create a three team race in the North which mirrors the South Division in closeness.