Lakeland MLN: Entering the Dog Days

They're known as the dog days of summer. The home stretch of a long season through the hottest Florida months. This is supposed to be the toughest part of the season, where fatigue and exhaustion typically set in.

But don't tell the Lakeland Flying Tigers that.

Riding a three-game win streak and winning five of seven for the week, the Flying Tigers have leap-frogged first-half division-winner Dunedin into fourth place in the Florida State League North Division.

After splitting a four-game series with Bradenton last week, Lakeland took three of four at St. Lucie. They are now 9-3 in their last 12 games.

Pitcher Adam Wilk had an up-and-down week. Last Wednesday, he allowed six runs on six hits, including two home runs, in just three innings. However, Robert Waite, Dan Gentzler and Jared Gayhart combined for six scoreless innings in relief, and a Bryan Holaday grand slam in the bottom of the seventh followed by Jordan Lenneron's two-run double shaped a six-run outburst, leading the Flying Tigers to a 7-6 win.

Despite his struggles against Bradenton, Wilk put it together in his next start at St. Lucie, where he threw seven innings and allowed just one run on four hits. This game coincidentally also featured a seventh-inning grand slam, this time by Brent Wyatt, as the Flying Tigers rolled to a 7-1 win, Wilk's eighth of the season.

While his 1.09 WHIP is tops amongst team starters and fourth in the FSL, opponents are hitting just .249 against Wilk. He leads the league in innings pitched with 127 1/3, but he has also given up 123 hits, ninth-most in the league. However, he allows just over one walk per nine innings, so his ability to not give free passes has allowed him to keep runners off base and his team in the game.

Holaday continues the hot start to his young career. His grand slam against Bradenton was his second home run of the season, and his .477 OBP and .493 SLG give him a .970 OPS, which would be tops in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify, which he should by season's end.

Youngster Patrick McKenna is also starting his full season career off on the right foot, as his .462 OBP and .438 SLG give him an .899 OPS, which would be good for third in the league if he had enough at-bats. His 1.002 OPS with the Gulf Coast Tigers earlier this summer gives him a collective .960 OPS for the season. He has just 32 at-bats in 14 games in Lakeland.

While first-half power Dunedin struggles, Lakeland is among the hottest teams in the league. Daytona and Tampa still sit atop the division, and with eight-and-a-half games separating the Flying Tigers from the top spot, they're still a long shot to earn the second-half title.

But in the dog days of summer, anything can happen.

The Flying Tigers (17-20) travel to Charlotte (17-22) for a four-game set starting Wednesday night before hosting last-place Clearwater (15-24) early next week. Meanwhile, Daytona (26-12) travels to last-place Jupiter (14-23) and Tampa (24-12) hosts St. Lucie (18-21), both in four-game sets, before they face each other in what will likely be a one-two matchup for division supremacy next week.

The Flying Tigers still have a chance at the second-half crown, with 17 of their remaining 33 games coming against the three teams ahead of them in the division.

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