Burlington Notebook: In The Hunt

After a disappointing first half, the Burlington Bees have picked up the pace during the second half of the season. Going into the final month of the 2012 campaign, the Bees are a strong contender for a post-season berth. Bill Seals brings us up-to-date on the Oakland A's Low-A affiliate.

Team Overview

Wins in five of its past six series have put Burlington just two games behind first-place Clinton as both teams enter the stretch run. The Bees, 20-17 in the second half and winners of four of their past six games, are bidding for their second-consecutive playoff appearance since the A's renewed their affiliate relationship.

Continuity and stability are common themes of this season's club, as manager Aaron Nieckula's roster hasn't undergone much turnover.

Burlington continues to get by on the strength of solid starting pitching. Staff ace A.J. Cole has dominated Midwest League hitters to the tune of a 5-2 record and 2.06 ERA. He's pitched 65.2 innings over 13 starts, striking out 74 and walking just 12. Drew Granier leads the team with 122.2 innings pitched, and has posted an 11-6 record and 3.01 ERA.

While the rest of the starting rotation has had its ups and downs, the Bees have compiled one of the league's best bullpens with converted starters Jonathan Joseph, Raul Alcantara and Jose Macias leading the way. Burlington's 3.94 team ERA and 1.33 WHIP (through Monday) rank in the middle of the Midwest League, but its 10 shutouts on the year are second behind only Lansing.

The Bees will need to continue pitching well to remain in the hunt for a second-half championship. All five of their leading hitters in average, from the start of the season, have now been promoted to other levels including recent Midland addition Eliezer Mesa. Mesa had been leading the current crop of Bees hitters with a .294 average.

Infielders Max Muncy and Zhi Fang Pan now lead all active Burlington players with .257 averages, while outfielder Rashun Dixon's bat is heating up and his triple-slash line has improved to .246/.364/.417. As a team, the Bees are near the bottom in batting average (.246), yet rank fourth in slugging (.383) and sixth in OPS (706).

Burlington hits the road today to begin a four-game set with Wisconsin, before heading home for back-to-back tilts against Quad Cities and Peoria.

Comings and Goings for the Month of July

The Bees haven't seen much movement this month. Mesa skipped the California League entirely and was shipped to Double-A Midland on July 28th. All other moves involved the pitching staff.

Reliever Max Perlman was promoted to Stockton after posting a 1-3 record and 3.92 ERA across 64.1 innings. The tall right-hander posted a 43:16 K:BB ratio and allowed 28 earned runs on 58 hits. However, he has struggled in six appearances with the Ports, allowing 16 runs (11 earned) on 21 hits in 15.2 innings.

After spending the better part of two years in Arizona rehabbing an elbow injury, pitcher Julio Ramos is finally getting another shot with an affiliate. The southpaw was promoted from Vermont to Burlington in mid-July and has allowed just one earned run on seven hits in 12 innings. He's struck out nine and has yet to issue a free pass.

Left-hander Chris Lamb entered the Burlington starting rotation upon his arrival from Vermont, but has had a tough go in his first four starts. Although he has yet to get a decision in those appearances, Lamb's ERA resides at 5.59 and he's allowed 33 base-runners in 19.1 innings.

Reliever Logan Chitwood was promoted from Vermont over the weekend and suffered through a disastrous first outing on Sunday against Cedar Rapids, allowing four earned runs on six hits in 1.2 innings.

Oakland demoted Omar Duran from Burlington to Vermont after three shaky Midwest League outings, and the move has been a good one as the left-hander has yet to allow an earned run in his first four outings for Vermont

Who's Hot

With the season entering the final month, Burlington is winning in spite of its offense which hasn't featured many standouts over the past week. First baseman Max Muncy heated back up after a slow start to July, and now has 12 hits in his past 36 at-bats (through Monday). During that span, he's posted a .400 on-base percentage and 900 OPS.

Part of a Burlington platoon at catcher, John Nester has posted a triple-slash line of .303/.361/.455 over his past 10 games, including a three-hit day against Cedar Rapids on Sunday.

The versatile Douglas Landaeta has played all over the field and has eight hits in his last 22 at-bats to raise his season average to .239.

Drew Granier struggled mightily in June with a 7.16 ERA in five starts, but recovered with a lock-down July. The 6-foot right-hander allowed just four earned runs on 18 hits in 30.2 innings – good for a measly 1.17 ERA in five starts. He struck out 32 and walked nine during that span.

A.J. Cole has matched his starting counterpart to the tune of a 1.32 ERA over five July appearances. One of the top pitching prospects from the Gio Gonzalez trade with Washington, Cole hasn't allowed more than one earned run in a start since June 17th. Cole's command has gotten even sharper, as he's posted a 22:3 K:BB ratio in his past three outings.

Jonathan Joseph has found his niche as the Burlington closer and hasn't allowed a run in his past six appearances and recorded five saves. During that span, he has allowed just three hits in eight innings and struck out 10.

After a disastrous two-game stretch in mid-July, reliever Drew Tyson has settled down nicely with four straight scoreless appearances. During a span of 6.2 scoreless innings, he has allowed four hits while striking out four.

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