Lakeland MLN: Flying Tigers Claw Back to .500

In a rain shortened week the Lakeland Flying Tigers found their stride. They won five out of six games in convincing fashion. The hot streak has brought Lakeland out of the cellar in their division and well on their way to contention.

It had all the makings of a disastrous week. The Flying Tigers were taking on the hottest team in the division and then they were going to Dunedin while finishing the week with a series taking on the first half champion Brevard County to conclude their extensive road trip. It looked as if Lakeland might trail the division leader by double digits, then they made a statement.

In the first game not only did they shutout the Clearwater Threshers, they posted 12 runs to add insult to injury. They went on to post a run differential of +20 for the week while gaining ground in the division. If the Lakeland Flying Tigers could string together some more weeks like this they could be in the hunt this fall.

The Lakeland Flying Tigers rotation was about as good as a rotation could be. No starting pitcher allowed more than one run in their start while tossing four quality starts and three bullpen aided shutouts. The pitcher that may start leading the way is the youngest on the staff.

Mauricio Robles first start in the Florida State League couldn't have gone any worse. Since his debut outing, which he allowed five earned runs in two and two thirds of an inning, he has been lights out. Robles hasn't allowed a run in the past 12 and 2/3 innings while positing a 1.93 ERA since his first start.

The 19-year-old south paw has been an exciting addition to the rotation. While his strikeout to walk ratio was ok in West Michigan, Robles was still averaging 4.31 BB/9 innings. While he hasn't been flawless, his walk rate in Lakeland has dropped to 3.37 BB/9. His control will be the cursor to see how far he will go, but he is the most exciting prospect on the roster.

The offense did more than just hold their own this week. They outscored their opponents 26 to six while they were able to come through in the clutch. 11 of their 26 runs were scored with two outs in the inning. Those 11 two out RBI's were the difference between a good week and a great week, since they were the deciding factor in their three one run games. The majority of the clutch runs came from the least likely of sources.

Maiko Loyola had four of the six two out RBIs spreading across three games. Run producing hasn't been what Loyola has been known for. After spending three seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays system and a brief stay the Pittsburgh organization this season he has found his way to Lakeland. Loyola biggest asset is his legs, he stole 45 bases last season. Speed would be a welcomed talent into the Lakeland lineup.

While the Lakeland Flying Tigers have a few heady base runners that will steal a base when they are able to, the lineup doesn't really have a true speed threat. Loyola could be that player as a fourth outfielder or coming off the bench in key situations.

His batting style is to get on by any means necessary. He almost always tries to bunt his way in his first at-bat to bring the third baseman in, then he has a bigger hole to work with when he straighten ups. Loyola has the speed to be a capable speed threat, but he still has to refine his approach.

His success rate has been ok at best and he has already been caught twice in Lakeland while he has yet to steal his first base as a Flying Tiger. His career success rate has been 72%, far from the ideal for a speed oriented outfielder. He adds a much needed element to the team, we shall see if he is able to capitalize on the opportunity.

One of the oddities in the Lakeland Flying Tigers roster is the three headed monster they have behind the plate. Jordon Newton, Adrian Casanova and newly promoted Billy Alvino are donning the mask for the Flying Tigers. It is a rarity to see three catchers on a roster, none the less all three made starts this week.

In his short stint in Lakeland Alvino has hit well. He's gone 4-for-13 in his first four games for a .308 average. The move gives manager Andy Barkett the flexibility to stream catchers in and out of the lineup while putting Newton at DH and still have a fresh catcher the next game. It will be interesting to see how long the Lakeland Flying Tigers showcase three catchers but it definitely worked well this week.

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