Lakeland, which could have topped off its week with a win and an above .500 record vs. Clearwater on Wednesday, lost a heartbreaking 14 inning marathon in front of a myriad of Lakeland-area elementary schools on Education Day.
They now sit at 13-14, and are 5.5 games behind Daytona for first in the FSL North.
The Lakeland lineup has seen a flip-flop in the top of its order; not in hitting positions, but in hitting production.
Beginning with its lead-off hitter and most drastic improvement:
Gustavo Nunez, the slick shortstop who runs toward first before hitting the ball, went 5-for-6 on Education day to extend (authoritatively) his 11-game hitting streak. Aside from notching a speedy four runs and three stolen bases since April 28th, Nunez has displayed some unprecedented pop with driving in seven runs and one ball out of the park.
With some help from a decent 8:12 BB:K ratio, Gustavo's batting average sits atop a tall .363.
Following in Nunez's steps --three slots later in the batting order--, Wade Gaynor has finally begun to turn his promise and potential in to solid production.
On Education Day, and to the sound of highly-pitched "Let's go Tigers!" chants that chimed throughout the game, Gaynor displayed his raw power by blasting a two-run shot that never flew higher than a few feet off the ground.
He and Nunez, the solid left side of the infield, have also displayed smooth hands and strong arms in the field.
A new bat, although a bit more inconspicuous than that of Nunez and Gaynor, is that of left fielder Michael Rockett. Rockett has ridden eight hits and five runs in the past week to an increase in playing time. Aside from being a sparkplug from the nine hole, Rockett is a sparkplug in the field. His quick reactions and speed have enabled him to make a few acrobatic players in the outfield –another reason his increased playing time might begin to stabilize.
For every flip there's a flop, and the two flops Nunez and Gaynor's flips are first basemen Tony Plagman and Jordan Lennerton.
Plagman is still producing power numbers. His former league-leading RBI total has reached 25, good for second in the Florida State League, and his home run total is five, good for a tie at eight.
But, unfortunately, perhaps the statistics that are more accurate snapshots of a player's production, their batting average and OPS, have dropped significantly for Plagman.
Over the past ten games Tony is 6-for-43 while producing a .547 OPS, .264 points lower than his season's total.
He hasn't been pried out of the three spot yet, though, in the hopes that he'll bounce back, and his 1:1 BB:K ratio over his dismality indicates he will.
Lennerton, who platoons at first with Plagman and is ensconced as the five hitter, is 3-for-25 in the past week. Unfortunately his sweet swing has been a bit sour.
As an entire unit, the Flying Tigers' lineup has been nothing more than proverbial "middle-of-the-road." In the five major offensive categories –R, H, HR, RBI, .AVG-, Lakeland is no better than fifth overall out of 12 FSL teams, and is no worth than eight.
Lakeland starting pitching has not been solid. Their bullpen has.
Lakeland's most solid starting pitcher is Jay Voss. Unfortunately, though, when he starts, Lakeland still doesn't see much of him. Voss' first two appearances this year were out of the pen, but his last three appearances have begun games. In those three starts, he hasn't worked past the fifth inning, and has only worked to that point once. He puts a strain on the pen, which, with this specific pen, might not be such a bad thing, but doesn't provide any semblance of consistency.
In the innings he has pitched, though, which is a total of 14 2/3, he is 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA.
But, when Voss comes out, and when all the children on Education Day deflect their attention to the bugs on the seat next time, in the late innings, the Flying Tigers show up.
Two names, above all, have been a consistent anchor to the back of the Lakeland pitching staff.
Kenny Faulk, the established closer, is one of them. To the surprise of many, Faulk has become a game-ending powerhouse. He's been successful on each of six save opportunities and has struck out an impressive 19 hitters in just 11.2 innings.
His stellar closing has been overshadowed a bit, though, as Clearwater's Justin Friend has ten saves using a .66 ERA as his weapon.
Who is second to him? Faulk with a 0.77.
The second name is Ryan Robowski.
Robowski, in 14 2/3 innings has forced Faulk to second in ERA on the team with a .66 ERA. He has a 7:6 BB:K ratio, which is a bit inauspicious, though.
On May 1st, RP Matt Little was assigned to Lakeland from the Seawovles.
On May 4th C Jeff Kunkel was assigned to Lakeland from the Erie Seawovles as well.
On Thursday, May 5th Lakeland hosts Clearwater again while trying to avoid a three-game sweep. They then travel host Tampa on Friday, and then head to Tampa to begin a 10 game road trip vs. the Yankees, St. Lucie, and Charlotte.