Erie MLN: 'Wolves look to get back to winning

Things didn't look promising for the SeaWolves as they packed their bags and embarked on their longest road trip of the season. The numbers just weren't on their side. At home, they've been among the most dominate teams. On the road, not so much. Their 9-11 record leaves something to be desired, but despite these shortcomings they were only 4.5 back of the Aeros as they headed into Akron.

Erie has been suffering from an anemic offense away from home. Many of the players they count on to produce at the plate haven't been able to do so as soon as they hit the road. Scott Sizemore's average drops from .323 at home to .286 on the road. Strieby drops from .278 with power to .264 with very little. Alex Avila goes from .281 to .250. Cale Iorg: .234 to .207, and on and on it goes. There are some outliers here, Brennan Boesch actually has fared better on the road thus far, and so has Diek Scram, but overall things have been shaky.

Pair that up with the fact that they just dropped three of four to the lowly Harrisburg Senators, who finally reached double digit wins in that series, and things didn't look too promising as they entered Akron for what was billed as a battle of the Titans between two Eastern League giants.

This was going to be Erie's first true test of the season. The teams they had faced thus far- Bowie, Harrisburg, Altoona, and Reading- haven't fair very well, combining for a 66-95 record. The Aeros, on the other hand, have been the best team in the league thus far, combining an efficient offense that had scored 185 runs -the third most in the league- with a pitching staff that had given up only 123 runs.

Game one was huge. Jon Kibler came within an out of recording a complete game shutout, and even though Erie's offense was shut down for the most part, the single run they were able to manufacture off Akron starter Chuck Lofgren (3-1, 1.35 ERA) proved to be enough, as they marched on to win 1-0.

The second game of the series was a dog fight that the ‘Wolves came out on the wrong side of, 7-6. In a rare occurrence, Alfredo Figaro got knocked around for five runs in as many innings and Zach Simons and Cody Satterwhite would give up two more over the remainder of the game.

Then they blew it open in the third, dominating Akron to the tune of an 8-1 score behind the bats of Brennan Boesch and Ryan Strieby, and a stellar performance the newly promoted Duane Below.

Erie was hoping to split the series in the finale on Monday, but it didn't work out like that. They held things close through six innings, but then Luis Marte got lit up for the second time of the week, giving up seven runs in the seventh, to give Akron an 8-1 lead which they would hold onto through the ninth.

Needless to say, the series wasn't what they hoped for and overall it was a disappointing week.

Oh Ryan, where have you been?
I'll admit it, I've been gushing over Strieby all season in this space. It's hard not too. He's been crushing the ball all year long and has appeared to be one of the top prospects on this team alongside Scott Sizemore. This week it's just not going to happen, though.

Strieby is in rut. In the Harrisburg series he managed only one hit. One. Yes, that one hit was another towering shot that found it's way into the parking lot some 400-plus feet away, but that's not nearly enough against a pitching staff that has the second worst ERA in the league (4.67), and is now even worse since Ross Detweiler has been called up to the Nationals.

In the Akron series he fared a little better, going 4-for-12 with six walks and a homer, so it looks like whatever the cause of the slump is now behind him.

I know that I'm picking nits here by criticizing Strieby, but over the last ten games he's been flirting with the Mendoza line by hitting .200.

We did get our second glimpse at Strieby in left on Tuesday, but it was a rather uneventful outing for him. He only had one ball hit to him which he fielded cleanly. On the little bit of action that he got he looked good, maybe a little awkward, but that's to be expected until he becomes more comfortable out there.

"He has good feet, good instincts, he should do fine out there. The guys up top want him to get some time out there, so thats what we'll do," Brookens said. "He has a first baseman's arm, that's the only thing that he needs to work on, but it will come around once he gets worked out a little bit."

Why do you build me up just to let me down?
I was really starting to get excited about Cale Iorg. After coming back from his wife's graduation he started to get real hot. He went on the road to Bowie and all of the sudden he was hitting homers and spraying the ball all over the outfield. Then they come back to Erie and suddenly all the progress he seemed to make was gone.

In the opener against Harrisburg he he went 3-for-5, but in the five games since he's picked up only two hits in his last 18 at-bats, with one of those being a home run.

So, I started to wonder. This guy has a ton of potential- there's a reason that he's one of the top rated prospects in this organization now that Ryan Perry and Rick Porcello have been called up to the big club- so why isn't he delivering on it? The talent just oozes out of him on the defensive side of the ball and he's shown flashes of brilliance at the plate, but for whatever reason he hasn't been able to stay consistent. Is there something more going on here? Has he just been extremely unlucky? What's the deal?

The best way to figure out if a guy is victim of bad luck is by looking at his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Typically, most players will have a number somewhere around .300. A really great hitter might dial it up a notch but your run of the mill average, even for a poor player, is somewhere around .300. Someone on a run of bad luck will dip below this, which usually means you can count on things leveling out for him in the near future.

Iorg's BABIP is .303. This tells us that he is grossly underachieving in other areas at the plate, otherwise his .218 average would be considerably higher. Which isn't exactly good news.

Iorg is an all or nothing hitter, he has been all along. He strikes out in 31.9% of his at-bats - pretty much the only way he's getting on base and helping the team is if the ball finds a seam.

Last season with Lakeland he posted a .251 average while striking out 29% of the time, which is a pretty impressive feat if you think about it. He gave away one-third of his at-bats and still managed a .250 average because he managed a .328 BABIP. Ted Williams had a .378 BABIP in 1941 when he hit .406, but he also only struck out 5.9% of the time.

Albert Pujols has only exceeded that .328 total twice in his career.

Now, just imagine if Iorg could somehow figure out a way to escape his hack-n-wack approach at the plate.

I know, comparing major league statistics to those of a Double-A player isn't exactly the most accurate measure, but it does shed some light on the situation. To be successful and really help the team, Iorg would need to maintain a BABIP somewhere in Williams' neighborhood, which is simply not going to happen for him.

This does, however, tell you what kind of hitter Iorg can be. If he could cut down that 30% strikeout rate he could easily be hitting .310-.315, not to mention his abysmal .253 OBP would go soaring. He has all the potential in the world when you put him on a baseball diamond, but he'll never be that special player the Tigers envisioned when drafting him unless he learns to be more selective.

Sizemore starting to rake
Scott Sizemore is really starting to rake at the plate- well, actually, starting is probably the wrong word. Sizemore has quietly went about his business all year by collecting hits and getting on base, but now he's also quickly establishing himself as a legitimate power threat.

After hitting two homers this week to bring his total up to eight, he now ranks in the top ten in- deep breath now- runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, total bases, walks, OBP, slugging, and OPS.

If Sizemore can cut down on his errors in the field he could catapult himself up the prospect list and become a legitimate candidate to fill in the expected void at second base next season in Detroit.

Quick Hits
-Last week we talked about Jon Kibler's turnaround and how he was still struggling a little despite having three strong performances. Well, this week he took another step forward. In fact, it was a huge step. He threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings, walked two and struck out six. This marked only the second time this season that Kibler recorded more strikeouts than walks, the other came on April 15 when he walked two and struck out three against Bowie.

-Max Leon is in a funk. April's Eastern League Player of the Month has suddenly went missing. After hitting .379/.438/.707 in April, he's now hitting .246/.368/.333 in May. When your OBP is higher than your slugging percentage you know things aren't going well. We probably should have expected this, though. His BABIP in April was at .422, for May it's at a realistic .283.

-Is Shawn Roof really this good? I won't question his heart, this guy plays the game like David Eckstein. Everything about him is full speed. Someone hits a homer and he's on base, he's sprinting around the bases. The guy is like Usain Bolt when taking the field between innings. I love that about him, I just don't love his bat right now. He is hitting .348/.456/.348 right now for ‘Wolves. That average looks great, so does his OBP, but I don't love that .348 slugging percentage. He has no power, none, zilch, zero. I hate the newest baseball cliche "he's hitting an empty .300" as much as the next guy, but if you've ever wondered how it's possible to do so, this is how.

-Alfredo Figaro's ERA has officially climbed above 3.00 for the first time this season after giving up five runs in five innings to Akron on Tuesday. Figaro is a great pitcher, he's come a long way in his control and has dominated hitters in the early going, but it makes you wonder if he as good as his ERA suggested. The only teams he faced before going up against Akron was Harrisburg (twice), Reading (once), Altoona (twice) and Bowie (once), which all have impotent offenses, save for Bowie. Altoona, Reading and Harrisburg all rank in the bottom three in runs scored, and Altoona and Harrisburg are the worst in the EL in average and OBP. This pretty much goes for the whole staff as they are finally going to come up against some quality competition.

-Since switching his number to 62, Zach Simons has now only allowed one run in 8 2/3 innings. He's also struck out eight batters during that span and walked five.

-With his homer on Sunday, Brennan Boesch moved into second in the EL, along with Scott Sizemore, who both have eight. The transformation of Boesch has been pretty amazing. At the end of April he was hitting .211/.238/.382 with just two homers. In May he's hit .333/.370/.623 with six homers.

-First impressions of Duane Below, the Tigers 2007 minor league pitcher of the year, made his debut in Erie this week and looked pretty good. He gave up a couple of early runs and walked five in as many innings against Harrisburg, but Brookens was pleased overall with his performance. In his second outing he was even more impressive, going 6 1/3 innings against Akron without allowing an earned run. His ERA after two is 1.59.

-Erie has one of the most productive offenses in the Eastern League, ranking first in runs, RBI, total bases, homers, slugging, and ranks second in average, and fourth in OBP, but they also lead the league in strikeouts at 313 against 147 walks. Strieby, Diek Scram, and Sizemore have combined for 73 of the teams 147 walks.

What's next
The E-Wolves will stay will head to Harrisburg for a three games series starting on Tuesday, and then will come back home to host Akron.

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