Augusta Team Report | May 24

By returning to first place earlier this week, the Augusta GreenJackets are poised for the biggest, perhaps most important stretch of the first half. The pitching has held up, the hitting is waking up, but will it be enough?

RECORD: 32-14 (.696), First Place in the Southern Division (1.0 game ahead of Columbus)

Early this week, the GreenJackets made their return to a spot that had been very familiar to them for all of April and much of May: first place. It was a small lead, to be sure, but it was just in time.

This week has been the start of a huge three-week stretch in the South Atlantic League Schedule. And with a slim lead, Augusta has to be in tiptop shape. On Monday, the team began a four-game series with West Virginia, the North division leading team. After a four-game stint in Lexington (nested in the middle of the North pack), the team faced Greensboro for four games (the No. 2 team in the North), and then the Asheville Tourists for four, whom had briefly seized first place before Augusta took it back. Then after a breather with bottom-feeding Savannah, the Tourists come to Augusta for three more games.

So far this week, Augusta has risen to the challenge. The team pounded the Power 10-5 in the first game, and took Game 2 before falling in Game 3 on Wednesday.

So going into Thursday's finale, the GreenJackets have a scant one-game lead over Columbus, and Asheville is only a half game behind them.

The slim lead will be hard to hold onto. Asheville is in the middle of a series with the second-place Greensboro Grasshoppers, but play 11 of their final 22 games against the North division's bottom team, Hickory. Seven of the other 11 are those games with Augusta. Columbus won't play either of their division rivals, instead getting seven games against Rome (second to last in the South Division, but an even worse record than Hickory), and another four against third-to-last Greenville.

Obviously Augusta's key has been their league best pitching. Their 2.36 ERA is easily the best in the league, though Columbus follows their model with a 2.68 ERA, good for second and the only other team with one under 3.00. Augusta also makes their offense less of an issue with an amazing 10 shutouts (The second-place team on that end, Charleston, has just four).

But Augusta's offense is coming alive. Emmanuel Burriss coming from San jose may be a demotion for him, but he has looked good and a lot more comfortable since arriving with the team. Meanwhile slugger Matt Weston is batting .325 in his last 10 games, and has two home runs in his last three. Bobby Felmy has remained consistent in the middle of the order. Marcus Sanders has been a bit more alive when he plays, as has Sharlon Schoop (who is batting .387 in the past 10 games, while batting just .241 on the season).

It's good that this is happening now, as the playoff run starts and Augusta clearly has the hardest schedule. It won't get any easier after the break in mid-June: the GreenJackets will start the second half with eight games against the North's top two teams again, Greensboro and West Virginia.

Roster Moves: As has been noted, the Giants have promoted Brian Bocock, the best Augusta hitter early this season, to San Jose. Bocock has been replaced by Emmanuel Burriss, who was mired in a horrible slump, batting just .165 in 36 games in San Jose, and who was in a 2-for-40 slump. Burriss has batting 4-for-16 to start his Augusta stint, already scoring two runs and stealing four bases in six attempts.

Player of the Week: Sharlon Schoop

As incredible as the pitching has been, Schoop's recent run earns him this spot. Since May 15, Schoop is batting 9-for-18 (.500) in five games. That includes his Tuesday home run, his first of the season. Schoop had been battling for playing time with Bocock at short and Sanders at second base. Switching Bocock for Burriss probably won't change much for Schoop except for the name and face of who he's battling for playing time, but he's definitely turned a corner.

By The Numbers: 59

Fifty-nine is the number of bases stolen by the Augusta GreenJackets in April of 2007. That's one more than the San Francisco Giants stole in all of 2006.

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