Midland Notebook: Late Season Push Needed

The Midland RockHounds are currently on the outside-looking-in for the Texas League post-season, but they are still within striking distance of a playoff berth. We catch-up with the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate in this latest team notebook.

Team Overview

It has been a slow start to the second half of the season for the Midland Rockhounds, who were 13-17 and 4.5 games back of first place through Monday. They have played .500 ball over their last 10 games, keeping pace with first-place San Antonio. For the season, the RockHounds have a 46-54 record and are 12 games worse than Corpus Christi, which currently has the best overall record in the Texas League's Southern Division.

Thanks in large part to the otherworldly season first-baseman Anthony Aliotti put together before his promotion (more on that in Comings and Goings), Midland ranks third in the Texas League in team OPS and first in team OBP. The RockHounds have scored the second-most runs of any team in the league and they are second in the league in stolen bases. Power hasn't been a big factor for Midland, however, as they are second-to-last in the league in homeruns.

It has been several years since the RockHounds have used speed as a weapon, but this year the team has featured stolen base threats up-and-down their line-up. D'Arby Myers, Darwin Perez, Dusty Coleman and Chad Oberacker are all in double-digits for stolen bases, while Conner Crumbliss is sitting on nine for the year.

The RockHounds have also been a patient bunch as a team this season. Aliotti still leads the Texas League in walks with 66, and his .452 OBP is nearly 40 points higher than any other player in the league. Crumbliss has also been getting on-base at a well above-average clip, as he sports a .411 OBP through 58 games. Tyler Ladendorf (.356) and Jake Goebbert (.350) have also done a solid job getting on-base this season.

The Texas League used to have a reputation for being hitter-friendly, but that is most definitely not the case any more. Case in point, the RockHounds' staff has a solid 3.90 team ERA and that ranks them second-to-last in the league. Midland pitchers rank fifth in the league in both strike-outs (716) and walks (291). RockHounds pitchers have allowed the fewest homeruns in the league, but they have allowed the second-most hits.

Murphy Smith, Sean Murphy and Carlos Hernandez have been reliable cogs in the Midland rotation all season. Smith has walked just 28 in 115 innings and he has a 3.21 ERA, while Hernandez leads the team with a 2.62 ERA and Murphy leads the team in strike-outs with 87 in 93.2 innings pitched. In the bullpen, Frank Gailey (2.30 ERA/ 40:8 K:BB in 43 IP) and Nate Long (3.76 ERA/ 39:11 K:BB in 40.1 innings) have been anchors.

The RockHounds have two games left in their three-game road series at Frisco. On Thursday, they head home for an important homestand against Corpus Christi (four games) and Frisco (three games). They begin August with a four-game series at Corpus Christi before finally getting to play a new team on August 6th (Tulsa).

Comings and Goings

There have been several roster changes for the RockHounds this month. Perhaps the biggest move came last week when Anthony Aliotti was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento. Before the promotion, Aliotti was making a strong case to win the Texas League's MVP award. He left the RockHounds with a .350/.452/.541 line in 340 at-bats. His 29 doubles with the RockHounds matched a career-high (he established a new career-high with his first Triple-A double) and his 12 homeruns were his highest single-season total.

Taking Aliotti's place as the RockHounds' everyday first-baseman is Max Muncy, who actually arrived a few days before Aliotti's promotion. Muncy was putting together an eye-opening season of his own with High-A Stockton before jumping to Double-A. In 93 games with the Ports, Muncy hit 21 homers and posted a .400 OBP. In eight games with the RockHounds, Muncy has only six hits in 28 at-bats, but he has walked seven times for a .371 OBP.

There were several changes made to the RockHounds' pitching staff this month. On July 4th, Brett Hunter and Gary Daley, Jr. were suspended for violating team rules. Hunter was reinstated on July 18th, but Daley has been let go. Pedro Vidal and Jake Brown joined the Midland staff from Stockton to replace Hunter and Daley. Brown was released after three poor outings for Midland on July 20th.

Taking Brown's place in the Midland bullpen is right-hander Blake Hassebrock, who made his Double-A debut on the 20th, tossing a scoreless inning. The North Carolina native has plus stuff and has excelled since moving from a starter's role to a relief role.

Third baseman Jefry Marte has battled a lower leg injury for much of the season. He was reinstated from his second stint on the disabled list on July 4th. Marte has struggled since returning from the DL, batting .184 in 38 at-bats.

Infielder Michael Fabiaschi spent most of the 2013 season on the disabled list. On July 15, Fabiaschi announced that he was retiring from professional baseball.

Who's Hot

Utilityman Conner Crumbliss struggled in a limited role early in the season with Triple-A Sacramento, but he has put together a solid season with Midland since returning to the RockHounds in mid-May. In 219 at-bats, he has a .283/.411/.470 line with seven homeruns. The seven Midland homers gives him 10 overall for the year, tying his career-high set last season. Crumbliss has a 46:29 K:BB ratio in 58 games with the ‘Hounds. Over his last 10 games, he is batting .297/.447/.514 with two homers.

After a down month of June during which he hit only .222, centerfielder Chad Oberacker has hit .256/.341/.410 in July. Both Jake Goebbert and Tyler Ladendorf have struggled some in July, but they rank second and third on the active RockHounds' roster in OPS after Crumbliss (829 and 791, respectively).

After two poor starts on June 30 and July 6, Murphy Smith has allowed just two runs over his last 13 innings (two starts). He has struck-out 10 and walked just two in those two starts.

Left-hander Carlos Hernandez hasn't allowed a run since a July 3rd start when he allowed one earned run in six innings. Hernandez has a 1.80 ERA over his last 10 outings (55 innings) and he has allowed just one homerun over that span. He won Texas League Pitcher of the Week on July 15th and is sporting a 0.37 ERA in 24.1 July innings.

Right-hander Sean Murphy has had a very solid July, as well. In four starts, he has a 3.38 ERA and a sparkling 24:4 K:BB. His K/9 is an even 1 and he has allowed just one homerun this month.

In the bullpen, right-hander Nate Long hasn't allowed an earned run for Midland since May. In 10 June and July appearances, he has a 16:4 K:BB ratio and has given up just nine hits in 16.1 innings pitched.

Lefty Frank Gailey has struck-out 11 batters in just 8.2 innings this month. Carlos Fisher has a 2.84 ERA and 18 strike-outs in 12.2 innings over his last 10 appearances, although he has walked 11.

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