Lakeland MLN: .500 Start for the LFT

The beginning of the new Florida State League season is upon us, and the Lakeland Flying Tigers season is in full swing. After the first two weeks of the season they have compiled a fitting .500 record.

With a run differential of -4 and averaging just 3.1 runs per game the Flying Tigers are sustaining with competitive pitching. With a team era standing at 3.07 it has been a collective effort by a talented pitching staff that runs twelve deep.

Charlie Furbush is one of three pitchers in the FSL that has yet give up an earned run. Furbush has struck out ten batters and has allowed only one free pass in nine innings of work. He essentially has had two starts (His first was after a Joel Zumaya rehab start) and has used his fast ball and off speed pitches effectively. Before last seasons Tommy John surgery he was a top twenty prospect, if Furbushs quick start is any indication on the future, he should be fine.

Another starting pitcher that's leading the way is Duane Below. After last season's peaks and valley's Below has had an ideal start to the 2009 season. In his ten and 2/3 innings of work Below has struck out 18 batters and only surrendered one walk. Below struggled with his command in and out of the strike zone last season giving up 70 walks in 133.1 innings and opposing batters hit a gaudy .280 off the left hander. So far in 2009 he has attacked the strike zone, allowing a WHIP of 0.94 while hitters are batting a paltry .220 in his first two starts.

Thad Weber has also been pitching well in the rotation. Weber's 0-2 record has been misleading, his offense has let him down supplying an anemic two runs in support for his starts. In his two starts Weber has allowed just two earned runs in ten innings of work for a 1.80 ERA. He has only struck out 5 batters so far this season, but that's due to his aggressive pitching style, challenging hitter to put the ball in play. With a near two to one ratio in ground out to fly outs Weber trusts his defense to make the plays. As for the other side of the diamond, the Flying Tigers offense has a distinct National League feel to it. Every single or walk seems like it will inevitably turn into a double with a stolen base. The Flying Tigers have stolen a league leading 20 bases in just 10 games and have only been caught twice. The only problem is they aren't getting on base enough. They are in the cellar in the Florida State League standings in on base percentage at .295, which has led two a league worst OPS at .615.

Andy Dirks has been the cog in the middle of the order. The amazing statistic in this young season is Dirks has only one strike out it 37 at bats. He's been putting the ball in play and that has boosted his average to .297. Dirks has worked the gaps in the outfield to get his extra base hits however he's been turning his infield singles into doubles with stolen bases. He's tied with Shawn Roof with four stolen bases and is second on the team with six runs batted in. You wouldn't call Dirks a classic speedy outfielder, he gets his stolen bases and infield hits with hustle and heady base running.

The lone power threat in the lineup has been Chris Carlson. Carlson has hit three Home Runs this year and two of them happened this weekend against the Daytona Cubs and the other was a walk off shot against the Tampa Yankees. Carlson has showed massive pull power, launching all of his home runs deep into the berm in left field. The only problem is the three home runs account for half his hits so far this season. A consistent power threat is what this lineup needs desperately, if Carlson can parlay his results for this weekend throughout the weekend it would be a huge boost for the Flying Tigers. Michael Bertram has been the Flying Tigers biggest run producer with seven runs batted in and 15 total bases. It looks like Bertram has taken over as the primary first baseman since he hasn't played third since the second game of the season, which has moved Carlson to the DH. Time will tell if he will have enough power to stay at first base.

One of the biggest deficiencies on the club has been lack of offense out of the catchers spot in the line up. Adrian Cassanova and Jeff Kunkel have split the catching duties five games a piece; however neither has shown any sparks in the batter box. The on base plus slugging percentage has been a putrid .375 (Cassanova) and .376 (Kunkel). What they've been lacking at the plate they've been trying to make up behind it. Kunkel has been throwing runners out at a 50% clip while Cassanova has been holding his own at 33%. If either of them could show any promises at the plate it would go far in helping a struggling lineup.


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