Things Are Getting Seriously Good In Lakewood

Suddenly, things are looking up in Lakewood, New Jersey. The Lakewood BlueClaws appeared to be somewhat of a weak link in the first-half of the season, but that has all changed. Some of the new faces who have shown up in Lakewood have had an influence, as has a certain pitcher who has now moved along to Clearwater, but his friends in NJ keep winning without him.

It has been said that pitching is contagious. One good pitcher, Cole Hamels, came to Lakewood and seemed to not only infect the pitching staff, but the team as a whole. Hamels arrival seemed to spark the BlueClaws and they started to play much better. A second shot in the arm came with the arrival of some of the better players that the Phillies drafted and signed in June's draft.

G.G. Sato and Jeremy Isenhower have been strong parts of Lakewood's offense all season. Sato is currently hitting .259 and has made a huge contribution defensively as the team's everyday catcher. Isenhower has opened eyes throughout the organization, playing a strong second base for the BlueClaws. While Sato and Isenhower haven't exactly set the world on fire with their offense, but considering how weak the Lakewood offense has been this season, they were the strongest of the bunch. After all, this is a team hitting just .217 on the season.

The new faces, players like Matt Hopper and Marc Tugwell, haven't added a lot of offense, but they've been pushing the regulars. Both Hopper and Tugwell are hitting under .200 as they adjust to wood bats and professional pitchers. Lakewood has only two players among the league's offensive leaders. Mark McRoberts is tied for third in the league with 16 homeruns and Chris Roberson is the league's stolen base leader with 47.

On the mound, Hamels was huge. He was dominant and opposing hitters could barely put wood to horsehide against him, let alone beat him. After deciding that they had inflicted enough pain on the opposition, the Phillies promoted Hamels to Clearwater, but his presence on Lakewood is still felt.

Instead of Hamels and the spotlight that followed him, the BlueClaws have been watching guys like Dan Hodges. Hodges has pitched 13 shutout innings in seven relief appearances after coming to the Phillies in the June Draft. Justin Cerrato – another June Draftee – hasn't done quite as well, going 0-1, 5.40 in four appearances, but he has shown some good stuff, while basically having one bad outing that hurt his numbers.

Again, just the influx of competition and the new faces, bringing a new attitude to Lakewood have helped. Another dose of excitement could come from the return of pitcher Brad Baisley. Baisley's career was on the fast track until injuries derailed him. He recently made his 2003 debut with Lakewood and pitched three shutout innings, not allowing a hit or a walk. If Baisley stays at Lakewood for any amount of time and, if he truly is over the injuries, he will be a big addition to the pitching staff.

Lakewood has gone 23-19 in the second-half of the South Atlantic League season. They have already matched their first-half win total. Still, Lakewood trails the Lake County Captains – class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians – by 7 ½ games, but the progress is noted.

There aren't a lot of highly touted prospects at Lakewood, but there is a lot of enthusiasm. Things have turned around and good crowds are coming out to FirstEnergy Park. Lakewood is quickly becoming one of the hot spots in the Phillies minor league system and is developing quickly as a solid franchise that the Phillies can point to with pride. If the winning continues, there will be even more excitement for the gang in New Jersey to enjoy.

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