Lakeland MLN: Laying Claim to First

Winners of four out of five this past week, the Flying Tigers (34-26) claimed first place in the Florida State League's North Division. With just one week remaining, the bats are heating up, the pitching is on point and the Flying Tigers have added a top prospect from the GCL.

For the second consecutive week, rain postponed last Tuesday's series opener, forcing a doubleheader on Wednesday. Unlike the previous week's split, the Flying Tigers took advantage of the double dip sweeping the Manatees by identical scores of 3-2 in Viera.

Ignited by Wednesday's victories, the Flying Tigers unleashed a 10-2 shellacking on Brevard County in the series finale. All nine of Lakeland's batters recorded a hit and four Flying Tigers recorded two hits during the 13 hit blowout. On the opposite side of the ball it was business as usual for Luis Angel Sanz as he tossed 5 2/3 innings, surrendering two earned runs and striking out five while recording his FSL best 11th win.

Rounding the week out, the Flying Tigers split the inclement weather shortened series in Dunedin this past weekend--one game a piece.

Strong Arms Down the Stretch

Southpaw Matt Crouse has been an absolute beast for the Flying Tigers down the stretch. He hasn't allowed a run since July 22nd--a span of 17 innings. During the impressive streak, Crouse has struck out 15 and the opposing batters are hitting a feeble .091 against him. This past week, the 22-year-old reliever recorded two saves and struck out three over four scoreless innings--lowering his ERA to 1.71 this season.

Recent draftee Drew VerHagen has settled in nicely after struggling a bit in July. The 6' 6" right-hander has recorded back-to-back four inning scoreless appearances. VerHagen has been on fire in the month of August, posting a 1.84 ERA and striking out 13 over 14 2/3 innings of work.

Right-hander Warwick Saupold's transition to the rotation has been a pleasant surprise as well. The Australian native has four starts under his belt; all of which yielded encouraging results. After winning his first two starts, Saupold has received a no-decision his last two times out. Nonetheless, his ability to keep his team in games (1.71 ERA) and miss bats has been a nice boost down the stretch.

Venezuelan right-hander Victor Larez continued his dominating ways this past week. Larez tossed two innings of shutout ball, striking out four, lowering his ERA to 1.69 this season. Larez got off to a rocky start, allowing six earned runs over eleven innings in April. Since then, in his last 52 2/3 innings, Larez has allowed just six earned runs, good enough for a 1.03 ERA.

Schotts Promoted

Outfield prospect Austin Schotts was transferred from the Gulf Coast League to High-A Lakeland yesterday. The speedy 3rd round selection from June's MLB Draft swiped 15 bases and hit .310 with a .812 OPS over 155 at-bats.

The 18-year-old Schotts will be one of the youngest players in the FSL this season when he makes his debut Tuesday night. In fact, only Jonathan Knight of the Clearwater Threshers—who was also recently called up—is younger than Schotts. Knight is approximately three months younger than Schotts.

On Deck

Entering the final week of the regular season, the first place Flying Tigers return to Joker Marchant Stadium for seven games in six days.

Thanks to a rainout on Monday, Lakeland has a doubleheader tonight against the Brevard County Manatees. Fresh off last weeks sweep, the Flying Tigers are 10-6 against the Milwaukee Brewers' affiliate this season. Lakeland's Cesar Carrillo and Drew VerHagen are listed as the probable starters in tonight's matchup. The Flying Tigers will then send Warwick Saupold to the hill as the three-game set concludes on Wednesday evening.

Closing things out, beginning Thursday, Lakeland hosts the second place Tampa Yankees in a four-game series that possibly could determine the division.

James R. Chipman is the Lakeland Flying Tigers correspondent for TigsTown. Be sure to follow him on twitter @JAYRC_TigsTown.

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