LEHIGH VALLEY IRONPIGS (43-22; first place by 4.5 games)
Lehigh Valley wraps up a short three-game road trip to Buffalo tonight after falling to the Bisons 4-0 last night. The loss snapped the 'Pigs 10-game win streak over the Bisons, who have won just twice in their last nine games. Jake Thompson (2-6, 6.93) gets the start against Buffalo's Cesar Valdez (2-1, 3.95).
Thompson's ERA rose by a full run after his 2/3 of an inning, seven earned run outing against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last Friday. While Thompson didn't get much help from his defense - a botched double-play and two balls lost in the sun - he's far from being the same pitcher that won the International League's Pitcher of the Year Award last season. Thompson hasn't gone more than 5 1/3 innings since April 29th, when he pitched 6 1/3 innings against Toledo. He's also allowed at least three earned runs in each of his last four starts and has a June ERA of 15.00.
Bullpen Relief: Lehigh Valley's relievers have a stretch of 13 1/3 scoreless innings coming into tonight's game. The streak covers the last three games, during which Lehigh Valley relievers have a mark of 2-0, 0.00, with two saves and three holds. Over the 13 1/3 innings, they've allowed six hits and four walks, while posting 20 strikeouts. On the season, IronPigs relievers are 17-6 and have converted 24-of-26 save opportunities with a 2.62 ERA.
One of the bright spots has been Ricardo Pinto, who was moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen on May 24th. Since then, Pinto has stranded all eight of his inherited runners, including a pair of runners that he inherited last night. In his five relief appearances, Pinto now has a streak of 10 1/3 scoreless innings and has lowered his season ERA from 5.85 as a starter to a combined 4.65 mark this season.
All-Star Nods: Catcher Jorge Alfaro, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, DH Cam Perkins, starter Tom Eshelman and reliever Pedro Beato are all leading their respective positions in International League All-Star voting. Outfielder Dylan Cozens is currently second among outfielders, trailing just Roemon Fields of Buffalo for the top spot. Second baseman Pedro Florimon is third, shortstop J.P. Crawford fourth, outfielder Nick Williams is fourth and Roman Quinn, who is now on the DL and won't be able to play, is ninth. Among starting pitchers, Ben Lively, who is now with the Phillies, is third. Relievers Pat Venditte and Hoby Milner are fourth and fifth, respectively.
READING FIGHTIN' PHILS (36-25; second place, 4.5 GB)
Reading pulled off a double-steal in the top of the first inning in last night's 5-4 win in Bowie. Scott Kingery stole first on the play, with Zach Coppola swiping home. The steal was the first of three on the night for Coppola, making him the first member of the Fightins to steal three bases in one game since Roman Quinn accomplished the feat on April 17, 2015. The four total steals were the most by Reading this season. Kingery and Coppola have 15 steals on the season, tying them for the organizational lead.
Reading has won seven straight games and are 13-3 in their last 16 games.
The Fightins are in Bowie again tonight, with Brandon Leibrandt (5-2, 3.56) getting the start against Tanner Scott (0-0, 1.50).
Winning!: After enduring a nine-game losing skid May, Reading has considerably picked up the pace, but still trail last year's mark of 42-19 through 61 games. A year ago, Reading was starting a streak of 11 straight wins, and when that streak was snapped, they picked right back up to win seven straight and 12-of-14 overall. The Fightins still stand 4.5 games behind first-place Trenton in the North Division of the Eastern League.
Pitching Leads The Way: Fightins pitchers have held the opposition to three runs or less in 11 of their last 16 games, dropping the team ERA to 3.77, good enough for fourth in the Eastern League. Pitching has helped Reading win their last four one-run games and make them 12-9 overall in games decided by one run this season. In two-run games, Reading is 6-4, tying them for first in the league with Portland.
During their current seven-game win streak, Reading's starters have an ERA of 1.77 in 40 2/3 innings of work.
Clearwater Threshers (35-31; tied for first)
Clearwater was swept by Lakeland in a double-header Wednesday night, dropping them into a tie at the top of the FSL North with the Tampa Yankees. Daytona is just a half-game out after their double-header was rained out on Wednesday. There are just four games left in the first half of the season to decide who clinches an early playoff spot.
In the double-header, Clearwater scored just one run, losing 5-1 and 1-0. Jacob Waguespack threw five innings, allowing just two hits in the second game, allowing just three baserunners over five innings, scattering two singles and a walk. Waguespack struck out four batters in the game.
The Threshers won their first three games this month, but have gone 3-7 since then.
Again With The Pitching: In their last 14 games, Clearwater's starters have allowed just 12 earned runs in 73 2/3 innings of work, resulting in a 1.47 ERA. In each of the last 17 games, the Clearwater starter has allowed three earned runs or less. The Threshers staff ERA on the season is 2.98, good enough for second in the Florida State League.
Meanwhile, Offensively: In 10 of their 13 games this month, Clearwater has scored three runs or less. The bright spot is that when it comes to hitting home runs, Clearwater is far and away the leader in the FSL with 54 home runs this season. Tampa is second with 44.
Lakewood BlueClaws (36-30; third place, 1.5 GB)
Lakewood pounded 22 hits and scored 14 runs in a win over Delmarva Wednesday. Mickey Moniak and Raul Rivas were the biggest of the bats with four hits each, with Darick Hall, Brett Barbier and Carlos Duran all going deep in a six-run seventh inning. The 22 hits were just one short of Lakewood's franchise-high for hits in a nine-inning game. They also had their largest margin of victory - 14-1 - was their largest since a 15-0 win over Delmarva on July 3, 2006.
The BlueClaws endured a recent 4-9 stretch and have a small two-game win streak, which leaves them 1.5 games out of first, tied for third in the division. The BlueClaws can't win a tie with Hagerstown, and Greensboro and Kannapolis will only play 68 games, meaning that if the 'Claws finish tied at the top of the division with either of those teams, Lakewood would lose the division title on percentage points. In other words, it could be tough for Lakewood to pull out a first half division title.
All About Runs: Darick Hall drove in four runs Wednesday night and now has 45 RBI this season, putting him in a tie for first in the South Atlantic League. The interesting thing is that Hall missed just over two weeks with a high ankle sprain earlier in the season. In his last 41 games, Hall has 41 RBI and has hit all 10 of his home runs since the start of May, with his 10th home run coming Wednesday night.
And Yes, The Pitching: Lakewood pitchers lead the league with 10 shutouts this season, one more than Columbia. Last year, the 'Claws had 15 shutouts as a staff, with 11 of them coming in the second half. The franchise record for shutouts in a season is 19, set in 2006.
Reliever Will Hibbs has been added to the SAL All-Star Game roster for the Northern Division. Hibbs opened the season with 32 1/3 scoreless innings and has a 1.04 ERA and a team-leading nine saves. Batters are hitting just .096 against Hibbs this year.