TigsTown MLN: Erie Turning the Corner?

A quick glance at the Eastern League standings will show the Erie SeaWolves near the bottom of the Southern Division. After struggling through recent weeks and suffering a season high 12 game losing streak, they seem to be turning a corner.

On Wednesday they won at home for the first time since April 27 and they won two in a row for the first time since a four game win streak that ended on April 29. The 'Wolves are currently 12 ½ games behind the division leading Bowie Baysox. The 'Wolves once powerful offense continues to struggle along with the bullpen but the starting pitching has been much better.

Luke French has been one of the bright spots for the SeaWolves pitching staff. He has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last five starts. He struggled in the first inning of his most recent home start on Tuesday, allowing six runs on five hits but he allowed only two hits in the next six innings. French followed up his solid performance on Tuesday with an even better outing on Saturday. French finally earned a victory after a long stretch of bad luck, pitching 7 1/3 innings and striking out a season high five hitters in a 8-1 SeaWolves win at Canal Park in Akron. "He's been throwing the ball very well, as good as any left-hander that I've seen in the league" said SeaWolves manager Tom Brookens.

The starting staff has also received a boost from an unlikely source, Matt Righter has come out of the bullpen on an emergency basis with two good starts. Righter earned his first win of the season, pitching five innings and allowing only two hits at Jerry Uht Park on Wednesday. "I was able to get a lot of ground balls today and the guys played great" Righter said after a strong performance on Wednesday. Righter earned a no decision in his second start of the season, pitching 4 1/3 innings and allowing three hits and two earned runs. The 'Wolves eventually lost the game 4-3 after Nathan Panther hit an RBI double in the bottom of the ninth off of Angel Castro. The loss was the sixth time this season the 'Wolves have lost in the final at-bat.

Jon Connolly had his best performance of the season on Friday night against the Akron Aeros. Connolly pitched 7 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs in a 4-0 Erie loss. The 'Wolves managed only three hits facing Jake Westbrook who was sent down to Double A by the Cleveland Indians on a conditioning assignment. Westbrook was masterful in his six innings of work despite only striking out two 'Wolves batters.

The 'Wolves are showing signs of breaking out of their recent funk. "We are playing a lot better but it's few things here and there, that are killing us" Erie pitcher Lucas French said. "Everyone is going out there and playing hard, that's baseball and those things happen" said French. "We've been having some bad luck and we seem to fall behind early" said SeaWolves catcher Max St. Pierre. "It's been really tough on everybody because everyone is trying to do more" St. Pierre added.

Max St. Pierre is one of the guys who has stepped up while the team is struggling. He hit a his third home run of the season, a monster shot off the Pepsi billboard in left field to put the 'Wolves up 3-0 in Wednesday's 9-2 win against the Bowie Baysox. "That was big hit because I've been over-swinging for about a week and the past three games I've been trying to come down on the ball" said St. Pierre. He has seen his average dip to .265 on the season but his 24 RBI in only 117 at-bats ranks him near the top with his catching partner Dusty Ryan. Ryan has seven home runs and 25 RBI in only 120 at-bats.

Wilkin Ramirez continues to be the offensive catalyst for the 'Wolves. He leads all players that currently on the roster in just about every offensive category. He is the team leader in doubles (12), home runs (9), and batting average (.318). He trails only Freddy Guzman, who is currently playing for the Toledo Mud Hens, in triples with four and stolen bases with 14. Ramirez also leads the team in multi-hit games with 17 and he had three hits in a game five times this season.

Possibly the most important player for the 'Wolves this season has been Max Leon. He can play anywhere on the field and he is hitting .315, which trails only Wilkin Ramirez. Leon leads the team with 24 walks and he is the only player with an on-base percentage above .400. He is listed as a third baseman but he has proved he can play just about anywhere. On Wednesday he played left field and made a diving catch to get Matt Righter out of possible big inning. "He's one of those guys that you like to have on the club, offensively he gives you quality at-bats and he's a good player to have around" Tom Brookens said.

The 'Wolves return home for a six game home stand that begins on Tuesday with a three game series against the Reading Phillies. It will be the first time that the "Wolves and Phillies will meet this season. They play each other a total of 13 times this season. The home stand will conclude with a three game series against the Altoona Curve that will finish on Sunday June 1. The 'Wolves and Curve have met 10 times already this season with each team winning five times. The 'Wolves are 3-1 against the Curve at Jerry Uht Park this season.

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