Lakeland MLN: Road Slows Momentum

There's nothing like a tough road trip to humble a hot team and slow momentum going into the All-Star break.

Riding a two-week high, going 12-2 and outscoring their opponents 83-41, the Flying Tigers fell back to earth last week, going 3-3 and struggling to win close games.

After sweeping Tampa in a three-game set, the Flying Tigers traveled to Palm Beach to face the Cardinals for the first time this season, where they dropped 3-of-4, including two one-run games in which ninth-inning rallies came up short. In those two losses, the Flying Tigers were 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners on base.

Lakeland, however, got some help from division-leading Dunedin, who went 2-4 over the last seven days, losing their last three. The Blue Jays' division lead has shrunk to just a half-game.

Luke Putkonen book-ended the week with wins over Tampa and Brevard, running his record to 6-2, giving up three runs on 14 hits and striking out eight between the two games. The right-hander has won his last five starts and boasts a 2.59 ERA, tops among Lakeland starters.

Despite being tied with Brayan Villarreal for the team lead in wins with six and leading the team in innings pitched, teammates Villarreal and Charlie Furbush earned All-Star selections, which were announced over the weekend.

Villarreal also recorded his sixth win of the year this week, giving up two runs on five hits with nine strikeouts in the team's only win over Palm Beach. Furbush missed a chance at his fourth win, leaving a 3-3 game after six innings, allowing just five hits and striking out 10. Furbush leads the league with 90 strikeouts, 18 more than Dunedin's Joel Carreno.

Rawley Bishop and Kody Kaiser also earned All-Star bids. Bishop, still hitting .346 with a team-high five home runs, struggled at times last week with three hitless games and 10 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Kaiser stayed hot, going 12-for-23 with five RBI. Designated hitter Billy Nowlin provided the power, going 8-for-18 and belting a home run in three straight games against Palm Beach.

Alden Carrithers still leads the team in hitting at .367 after a 10-for-24 week.

After he was named Florida State League Player of the Week by the Florida State League for the period of May 17-23, Brent Wyatt began to struggle, going 3-for-25 for the week and 6-for-33 since earning the honor.

Despite dropping 3-of-4 to Palm Beach, the Flying Tigers (30-21) likely won't hang their heads, still outscoring their opponents 32-23 during the week. Just a half-game behind Dunedin (31-21) for the division lead, they host Ft. Myers (22-29) in a four-game set next week before two games against Tampa, whom they are 6-5 against this season.

And after the All-Star game next weekend, the road gets seemingly easier, as they play six against Daytona and seven against Brevard, teams they are a combined 7-1 against this season.

Mark Sorensen (4-5, 4.18 ERA) is scheduled to start Wednesday night as the Flying Tigers travel to South Division-leading Bradenton (29-22). The Lakeland offense exploded for eight runs on 12 hits on Tuesday night in Bradenton, the first in a four-game series. They look to re-establish the momentum they gained in an 18-11 month of May to help carry them past Dunedin for the first-half division crown.

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