TigsTown MLN: Lakeland's Misfortune

Just after sending an impressive ten players to the All Star game and claiming the best record in the league for the first half of the season, the Lakeland Tigers have seen a turn of fortunes, as they're off to just a 1-4 start for the latter half of the year. What's with the change in tune?

One quick roster move to note though before we get into the notebook; Miguel Linares has been moved out of Lakeland and Juan Gonzalez will now step up as the team's everyday shortstop.

Well, the obvious answer goes to the roster changes, as Lakeland lost top starter Justin Verlander along with infielders Scott Tousa and Juan Francia to AA Erie. Tousa had been one of Lakeland's hottest hitters in the month of June, while Francia had been making consistent contact and getting on base plenty all year long. And of course, Verlander's credentials can go without mention.

The slowdown from a couple of other key components have also slowed down the offense; as both Kody Kirkland and Brent Clevlen have seen notable cool downs since their hot starts in April. Despite the slowdown though, Clevlen is still tied for second in the Florida State League with 53 RBI.

These things have resulted in a few less wins in the early returns from the second half of the season. And while all teams in the Florida State League will have to encounter such problems, the postponements that Lakeland has had to endure thus far has certainly hampered the team and kept them from getting into any type of rhythm, as they've played just seven games as a team over the past 14 days.

Not all is lost though, as players like Danilo Sanchez and Vincent Blue continue their hot hitting in Lakeland. Sanchez especially is having a monster month, as he's slugging .615 for the club this month, as he leads the team with 13 home runs, 14 doubles and a .519 slugging percentage.

Blue meanwhile has excelled as well, with a .391 on base percentage along with 12 stolen bases, slowly solidifying himself as a player that fits the athletic, leadoff centerfielder mold. He now leads the team with 27 steals, which is good for second in the Florida State League.

As for the pitching staff, things continue to be a work in progress. The bullpen has been strengthened by the addition of Eulogio DeLa Cruz, who has actually seen his velocity rise over the past year and is regularly in the 98-99mph range. Daniel Zell has also stood out with his relief work, leading the team in ERA with a miniscule 1.16 stat. He hasn't allowed a single earned run for the month.

The offense has had some struggles, but long term the biggest worry likely lies with the rotation, where the team has lost Justin Verlander and Virgil Vasquez to Erie, and Cristhian Martinez to Tommy John surgery. With the return of DeLa Cruz to the bullpen, the team now has rotation considerably weaker than the one that led the way in the first half.

Nate Bumstead and Jordan Tata remain solid at the top, but it's the other slots that draw concern. Randor Bierd had a solid start on Tuesday but still took the loss, as he's now put together a less than outstanding 1-3 record with a 5.86 ERA. Preston Larrison is a solid prospect, but is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and there are sure to be plenty of bumps along the way.

Meanwhile, Kevin McDowell, who has been a swingman throughout his days as a Tiger will shift back into the rotation, where he'll make his first start today (Thursday). McDowell has been solid in relief, but may not be up to the challenge of helping the L-Tigers compete for the full season title.

It may be a bit less exciting without some of the headliners in Lakeland, but don't mistake a small funk for a complete turn of fortunes. The L-Tigers should still win plenty of games to prepare themselves for Florida State League playoffs (of which they're already in because of their first half title).


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