There is no hotter team in all of baseball right now than the Stockton Ports and they have seen their fortunes turn from a division also-ran to a front-runner for the California League post-season.
June was a terrific month for the Ports. They won 19 of 26 games, including the final 16 games of the month (Stockton's winning streak would end at 17 games, but they have now won four straight and 21 of 22 overall). Six days into July, the Ports are 13-1 in the second half and hold a six game lead in their division. They are 51-33 overall and hold an 11 game lead for the Cal League Wild Card spot (should they not win the second-half division title) and they are only 4.5 games back of San Jose for the best overall record in the Cal League.
Offensively, the team has been clicking as the weather has warmed in Northern California. In June, the Ports hit .279 with an 801 OPS as a team. They mashed 33 homers and scored 145 runs in 26 games (5.6 runs per game). The pitching staff was also outstanding. Stockton's team ERA was a sparkling 3.38. Ports' pitchers struck-out 214 and walked only 51 in 234.2 innings.
Comings and Goings
The Ports were able to rack up the wins in June despite seeing a lot of changes to their roster. The changes began at the beginning of the month when catcher Juan Nunez was sent to Low-A Burlington and relievers Chris Mederos and Andrew Carignan joined the roster. Slugger Chris Carter was with the team briefly at the start of June as he completed his rehab from a thumb injury. After three homers in six games, Carter was sent back up to Triple-A Sacramento, where he had begun the season.
Stockton welcomed Sean Murphy for a spot start in mid-June before he was sent to Low-A Burlington, as starter A.J. Griffin was lent to Sacramento, also for a spot start. Griffin would return to Stockton after his one start with Sacramento and would remain with the Ports until June 30, when he was promoted to Double-A Midland. Left-handed reliever Ben Hornbeck earned a promotion to Midland in mid-June and he was replaced on the Stockton roster by veteran Mike Benacka, who is working his way back from an injury that forced him to start the year in extended spring training.
Reliever Connor Hoehn would spend three weeks on the disabled list, working on some mechanical changes. He would return to the Ports' active roster on June 30. Hoehn has taken Brett Hunter's place in the Stockton bullpen. Hunter was promoted to Double-A on June 25.
The Ports' pitching staff would get a big league boost with two rehab starts from A's right-hander Brandon McCarthy. Stockton also added A's 2007 first-round pick James Simmons at the end of June. Simmons is finishing his rehab from shoulder surgery and will likely remain with the Ports for a few weeks, building up his pitch count.
The Stockton catching corps changed dramatically at the end of June. Ryan Ortiz, who starred with the Ports during his six weeks with the team, was promoted to Double-A Midland and Midland catcher Petey Paramore, who started for Stockton in 2008, was sent back to the Ports.
Listing who wasn't hot for the Ports in June would make for a much more efficient article, as much of the team hit their stride last month. Offensively, Ryan Ortiz led the way with a .375/.453/.611 line in 20 games. He hit four homers, drove-in 20 runs and walked 12 times. Fellow catcher Ryan Lipkin was also swinging a hot bat in June. He hit .359/.405/.564 with 10 RBIs in 10 games.
The Stockton infield was led by Michael Gilmartin, who celebrated his All-Star nod with a .289/.356/.533 line in 24 June games. He hit four homers, two triples and six doubles and scored 16 runs. Gilmartin has collected six more extra-base hits in six July games. Anthony Aliotti posted an 828 OPS and hit four homers while walking 11 times in 22 games. Jason Christian hit .306 in 16 games and Dusty Coleman hit three homeruns, while Conner Crumbliss posted a .372 OBP. Leonardo Gil made the most of his playing time, batting .342/.405/.432 in 11 games.
Among the outfielders, Michael Choice had another good power month, slugging six homeruns and posting a .505 SLG. Choice has already hit five homeruns in July in just six games. Rashun Dixon hit .306/.388/.424 in June with three homers and 12 walks. He has already matched his June homer total six games into July.
The Stockton pitching staff was led by Daniel Straily, who went 3-1 with a 3.12 ERA in 26 innings. He struck-out 29 and walked only eight. Murphy Smith also had a strong month in the starting rotation. His ERA was 3.80, but he was a groundball machine, inducing four groundouts for every flyout. He also had a solid 20 strike-outs against five walks in 23.2 innings.
Robert Gilliam and A.J. Griffin had slightly elevated ERAs, but they had solid peripherals. Gilliam struck-out 31 and walked only five in 28.2 innings. He posted four wins during the month. Griffin had a 21:5 K:BB ratio and an impressive groundout-to-flyout rate (2.22) in 20.2 innings.
Closer Jose Guzman was clutch for Stockton all month, as he converted all six of his save opportunities, including a number of one-run saves. Guzman allowed only one run in 14.2 innings and he struck-out 16 while walking three. Before being promoted to Double-A, Brett Hunter had a solid month for Stockton. In 10.1 innings, he allowed only a run on two hits and four walks. He struck-out 12 and converted his only save opportunity. Andrew Carignan also had a big month that was parlayed into a promotion to Double-A. Carignan didn't allow an earned run in 11 innings. He gave up only four hits and two walks and he struck-out 12 before getting the call to the Texas League.
Lefty A.J. Huttenlocker had another solid month. In 9.2 innings, he allowed only three earned runs. He didn't walk a batter and he struck-out six. Chris Mederos and Mike Benacka were added to the roster in June and both made solid contributions to the Ports' bullpen. Mederos struck-out seven and walked one in 4.2 innings, while Benacka struck-out six in 6.1 frames.