With their offense finally rolling they are looking to compete in the second half of the season.
It was a bizarre first half in Lakeland. First the Flying Tigers had to scratch and claw for every run in hopes they wouldn't spoil a brilliant pitching performance. Then the rain came. They had whole series' rained out and multiple delays. When they were finally able to squeeze games in between rain drops, the bats started to heat up, though the pitching struggled to hold leads.
Now they start the second half without their ace Thad Weber who was promoted to Erie right after he won the Florida State League All-Star game. It's no surprise that Weber got the call with his 2.13 era and only surrendering 11 walks in 67 and 2/3 innings of work. A WHIP of 0.96 should translate well in the Eastern League.
The promotion leaves a crater in Lakeland's pitching rotation. It could give Trevor Feeney a shot as a starter. He's had the vital role in the bullpen as long and middle relief, but he has been used in starts during doubleheaders. He has a solid fastball at 89-92mph and does induce swings and misses with his slider out of the zone.
The pitching staff as a whole needs to keep the ball in the yard. The Lakeland Flying Tigers led the Florida State League in home runs allowed. Surrendering 45 home runs in just 60 games (fewest games in the Florida State League) is part of the recent struggles Lakeland has gone through.
The back end of the bullpen looks set with two closers waiting in the wings. Scott Green has been the closer for most of the season though Robbie Weinhardt has started to get a fair share of opportunities.
Weinhardt has put together a spectacular first half of the season. He has only allowed two earned runs all season and has been the most dominant strikeout pitcher on the staff. Striking out 33 batters in 25 innings for an 11.88 K per 9 inning average is the best on the team.
Scott Green may not have the eye popping numbers that Weinhardt has accumulated but he can hold his own. His 6' 7" stature makes him the most physically imposing player on the Flying Tigers staff. Green's biggest problem is control in and out of the strike zone. He can dial it up and strike batters out with his mid 90's fastball since he struck out 24 batters in 23 and 2/3 innings.
However when the ball gets put in play it finds a hole. Opponents are batting .312 against Green. The mistakes get compounded when you give out free passes. He has given out 11 of his 12 walks on the season in his past ten appearances. Green's save chances has been like walking a tight rope. Even with a WHIP of 2 in his past 12 innings he has still been able to record two saves, and have an even 3.00 ERA during the stretch. With Green and Weinhardt at the end it could truly be a two headed monster at the end of games.
Since being sent down from Erie, Santo De Leon has been one of the Flying Tigers most productive batters. After struggling mightily at the plate in Erie De Leon has had a resurgence in Lakeland. Since May 29th De Leon has held an average of .305. He's been primarily a singles hitter with some extra base power recently, hitting two of his four doubles in the past five games. Considering he hit double digit home runs last season in split time in Erie and Lakeland it's a little shocking De Leon is stuck at one for the season.
What De Leon has brought is another solid batter in the back end of the lineup. He has brought batting average to a lineup that was sans a .300 hitter. However the .305 batting average looks nice on the scoreboard, but the .339 OBP is disappointing for a .300 hitter.
In the field he has been similar to his counterpart Audy Ciriaco. They both posses great arms and solid range but make too many errors. In his first 18 games De Leon has five errors, which would be on pace for over 30 errors in a season. Without a doubt De Leon has helped the Lakeland lineup, but if he can turn on the power he could hold a vital role.
The two most underrated players in the lineup would be Kyle Peter and Justin Henry. Not only do they provide superior defense they also bring more to the plate than what their sagging averages may suggest.
Kyle Peter is eligible to come off the 7-Day DL this week which would give an immediate boost to the team's defense. Peter has shown great range in center field, getting balls in the gap that had no business being caught. At the plate he has the patience that the majority of the batters in the Lakeland Lineup haven't developed. His 19 walks are third on the team, even though he has only accumulated 99 at-bats.
Peter has also been the most efficient thief on the team, stealing 13 bases while only being caught once. The .222 batting average and .263 slugging are far below average. If he can start hitting at a higher clip once he's fully recovered he could be more than just a table setter.
Justin Henry has been the leadoff man for the better portion of the season. Like Peter, his .245 average and .293 slugging have been dreadful. He brings a similar skill set to his position, playing a great second base, only two errors so far this season.
Henry also has the knack of getting on-base, drawing a team high 24 walks while only striking out 18 times. His 11 stolen bases are just behind Peter and he has been quite capable since he's only been caught twice.
The De Leon's, Peter's and the Henry's have been the fuel that the Flying Tigers lineup has been running on the past two months. Lakeland has started June with a +5 run differential. Now it's time to see if it can translate to success in the second half.