The Toledo Mud Hens are enjoying first place in the division after steam rolling rivals over the past week. The Mud Hens took three out of four versus the Columbus Clippers, swept the Indianapolis Indians and split a two game series versus the second place Louisville Bats. The 'Hens (17-9) continue to work toward the best record in the league trailing only the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees by a win for first place.
The Mud Hens started the series versus the Columbus Clippers with a mediocre 10-7 record and lost the first game; marking the first time this season the 'Hens lost three in a row. Management worked their magic and suddenly the Mud Hens went on a seven game winning streak (another first this season) and now hold an impressive 17-9 record going into a four game series with the Rochester Red Wings. (The Red Wings are not, to my knowledge, a spin-off of Detroit's hockey team or the popular restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings!)
The Mud Hens accomplished the seven game winning streak with strong offense, belting a combined eleven homeruns in seven days along with 46 runs scored. The 'Hens now lead the IL with 39 home runs coming from 14 different players. The second closest team has hit only 26 homers. The Mud Hens are also among the top teams in every major offensive category, which unfortunately includes strikeouts as well.
Team leader Mike Hessman was named the IL Batter of the Week (April 21-27) as he hit .348 with eight hits, eight runs, three home runs, 6 RBI and an .870 SLG in six games.
Pitching was also fierce during the seven game winning streak as pitchers Eddie Bonine and Chris Lambert picked up two wins each. Aside from the two-win week (May 24 and 29) Bonine is now 5-0 this season in five starts. His five wins are tied for tops in the International League. Bonine has also pitched in a team leading 32-1/3 innings.
Relief Pitcher Francisco Cruceta has proven to be overpowering for Triple-A batters as he has struck out fifteen in only seven innings of work. Cruceta was awarded his first win with Toledo on April 25 versus Columbus, coming in to replace starter John Connolly in a tight game at the bottom of the seventh. Walking the first batter he faced and then giving up an RBI double to Ray Olmedo two batters later it looked as if he may have run into trouble, but he was able to get out of the inning allowing only one run. The Mud Hens' offense provided some quick support, scoring four runs the following inning and Cruceta worked a scoreless eighth for the win.
Another notable pitcher on the Mud Hens is closer Blaine Neal who is tied for the league lead with nine saves in as many chances. He proved to be un-hittable (or at least un-runnable, if you will) in his first eight appearances allowing no runs. Neal finally broke down and allowed one earned run on April 28 and now rocks an ERA to the tune of 0.82 with sixteen strikeouts, three walks and nine hits in eleven innings of work.