Minor League Report 8/28: The Savannah Sand Gnats Giveth and the Sand Gnats Taketh Away

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The minor league seasons have only a few weeks left, and that means that the Savannah Sand Gnats only have a few weeks left to make a mark in the South Atlantic League. The New York Mets affiliate has had a roller coaster season that Brandon Magee explains in his weekly minor league report.

In their final season in Savannah, Georgia, the Sand Gnats have decided that they should be the story of the South Atlantic League season. A furious comeback with three weeks to go in the first half of the season earned the Gnats a trip to the playoffs. Not satisfied with one title, the Sand Gnats took control of the second half race with an August streak for the ages. Can the Sand Gnats run through the playoffs and bring a fifth South Atlantic League Title to historic Grayson Stadium?

On June 1, the Savannah Sand Gnats lost to the Asheville Tourists 5-3, moving to 7 games behind the Greenville Drive in the race for the South Atlantic League Southern Division first half title and a trip to the playoffs. On June 12, Savannah defeated Hickory for their 10th consecutive win. With nine games left in the first half race, Greenville and Savannah were in a flat-footed tie. While every win during this streak would prove valuable, it was games three through six that served notice of their intent – a four game sweep of the Drive which extended Greenville’s losing streak to six.

From the 13th on, the teams essentially mirrored each other, with the Drive taking a one-game lead on the 15th only to lose it on the 16th. The teams would enter the final game of the first half tied. Savannah won, Greenville lost. The Sand Gnats had gone from seven games back to champions in 19 games.

To have a ten game winning streak during crunch time could be skill, it could be luck, but it is more than likely a combination of both. To do it again would be improbable.

On August 2nd after a loss to the Asheville Tourists, the Sand Gnats were a game over .500 in the second half and six games back of the Tourists. Much to the chagrin of the Tourists but to the delight of the Greenville Drive, the Sand Gnats once again decided to wreak havoc on their opposition, going three full weeks without sustaining a loss. After 18 wins and one, extremely rare tie, Savannah held a four-game lead over the Tourists, making the race for the second playoff spot a race for the second best overall record in the division. The Drive, who were in poor playoff position with their second half record were, all of a sudden, back in playoff contention. What the Sand Gnats had taken away in the first half, they were making possible in the second half.

Both streaks were powered in large part by the South Atlantic League’s best pitching staff. In the 10-game streak in June, the staff allowed three or fewer runs seven times. In their most recent stretch, the Sand Gnats did not allow more than four runs in any of the 19 games. In fact, the team has not allowed more than four runs in a contest in nearly a month, allowing six runs to Greensboro on July 28. The rotation of Martires Arias, Ricky Knapp, Scarlyn Reyes, Corey Oswalt and newcomer Chris Flexen has been exceedingly stout during the past month. The offense has also come through in the recent streak, scoring six or more runs in eleven of the 19 contests. The offense has been led by third baseman Eudor Garcia and outfielders John Mora and Wuilmer Becerra.

With a week and a half left in the season, Savannah’s place in the playoffs is assured. Their recent run indicates a team that is well primed for a second championship run in three seasons. And with games remaining against both Asheville and Greenville, they will have a large say in which team they will face in the first round of the playoffs.

Whether or not the Sand Gnats brings a fifth championship to Savannah won’t be determined for a few weeks. As the Sand Gnats streak out of Savannah to newer pastures in Columbia, South Carolina, the future Fireflies have already given the city a season to remember.

Minor League Roundup

Overall team records are shown as of the end of play on Wednesday, August 26th. This week’s record is from Thursday, August 20th through Wednesday, August 26th.

Pawtucket Red Sox (Overall: 52-80 Week: 4-2)

Another four-win week moves the PawSox ever closer to avoiding the dreaded 90-loss mark.

Allen Craig hit his fourth home run for Pawtucket on Wednesday. It was his first home run in over two months, a stretch of 59 games. Over his last 16 games, Craig has started to resemble a productive batter once again, batting .306/.377/.435 with six extra base hits. In 44 games between June 18 and August 11, Craig had only three extra base hits, all doubles.

 

Keith Couch has had a miserable year in the starting rotation for the PawSox. In his 23 appearances prior to Wednesday, Couch had not left a game with a clean line, allowing a run in every single appearance. In his first bullpen appearance since May, Couch went 3 ⅓ scoreless innings on Wednesday.

William Cuevas has made a nice transition into the PawSox starting rotation. Since his promotion in the beginning of August, Cuevas has started four games with an ERA of 2.63 while holding opponents to a batting line of .163/.250/.291. He has also whiffed nearly a batter per inning, striking out 22 in 24 innings of work.

The PawSox finish up a quick two-game series tonight in Buffalo before heading to Rochester for three. The PawSox then return to Rhode Island to complete the season with a seven-game homestand, starting on Tuesday against Lehigh Valley.

Portland Sea Dogs (Overall: 48-82 Week: 2-5)

With a five-loss week, the Sea Dogs are very much in danger of hitting the dreaded 90-loss mark.

Sam Travis continues to get on base. A current 16-game on-base streak isn’t too surprising as Travis has only failed to reach base three times in his 56 games in Portland. In his current streak, Travis is batting .298/.385/.456 with eight walks and only six strikeouts. In his last four games, Travis has reached base eleven times in 17 plate appearances.

The transition to the pen has helped Mike Augliera tremendously. In his eight relief appearances since July 23, Augliera has held opposing batters to a line of .198/.236/.358. In his 17 starts to begin the year, batters hit .341/.393/.501 against him.

Aaron Wilkerson struggled in his first two AA starts, allowing nine runs in 10 ⅔ innings. His next two starts have been nothing short of brilliant, allowing a single run on six hits and two walks in a pair of seven-inning outings. Wilkerson is one of the few pitchers in the organization that can reach double digits in the win column this season as he has picked up nine wins in his travels through Greenville, Salem and Portland this season.

The Sea Dogs began a four-game series last night against the New Britain Rock Cats, closing out the Rock Cats stay in the Hardware City. They will then head to New Hampshire to face the Fisher Cats for four.

Salem Red Sox (Overall: 58-70 2nd Half: 20-38 Week: 3-4)

With eleven games left on the schedule, Salem is guaranteed to finish under .500 for the season.

Mario Martinez has a seven-game hitting streak which started in July. Over his last seven games – a stretch that was interrupted by an appearance on the disabled list – Martinez has hit .367/.367/.567.

Daniel McGrath struggled coming off the disabled list, putting up a 6.89 ERA and allowing an opposition OPS of .963 in his first seven games off the DL. However, his last two starts, show that McGrath may be fully recovered. Pitching consecutive six-inning starts, his first since going on the DL in May, McGrath gave up a total of seven hits and three runs without giving up a walk. On Sunday, McGrath struck out eight Wilmington Blue Rocks while allowing no runs to score.

 

Cole Sturgeon batted .333/.368/.528 in his last nine games with Salem before getting promoted back to Portland on Wednesday.

Salem began a four-game weekend series against the Potomac Nationals last night which will, complete their home schedule for the year. They will head to Lynchburg to face the Hillcats on Tuesday for a three-game series.

Greenville Drive (Overall: 65-63 2nd Half: 27-31 Week: 3-3)

A three-win week coupled with the amazing Savannah Sand Gnats kept the Drive alive in the playoff hunt. The Drive are 1 ½ games out of playoff position entering the final week and a half.

Jake Drehoff has been a solid member of the Drive ‘pen this season, putting up a 3.09 ERA in sixteen relief appearances. Drehoff has also started six games for the Drive, putting up an ERA of 2.30 over 27 ⅓ innings. In his six starts, he has walked a single batter. On Wednesday, Drehoff pitched six scoreless innings, giving up two hits while striking out four.

Andrew Benintendi has hit the South Atlantic League running. Benintendi has reached base in six of his first seven games, batting .308/.424/.538 with a pair of home runs and six walks.

Bryan Hudson has a six-game on-base streak, batting .350/.458/.450 with a pair of doubles and four walks.

The Drive finish up a three-game series tonight against the Greensboro Grasshoppers before heading to the Rome Brave for five starting on Saturday.

Lowell Spinners (Overall: 33-31 Week: 3-4)

A sweep of the Vermont Lake Monsters keep the Spinners in playoff contention, sitting a game back of the West Virginia Black Bears for the wild card.

Daniel Gonzalez has endured a starter’s workload out of the bullpen this season with an ERA of 2.96 in 51 ⅔ innings in his 12 relief appearances. In the win on Wednesday, Gonzalez did not allow an earned run in 4 ⅓ innings, the first time since his first appearance of the season that he has not allowed an earned run.

Tyler Spoon has reached base in his first five games as a Spinner, going 5-for-20 with a pair of walks. Spoon, who was catching in the Gulf Coast League, has played left field in his five appearances for Lowell.

Josh Ockimey has rediscovered his power stroke. In his last six games, Ockimey has had five hits – a single, two doubles and a pair of home runs. On the season, Ockimey has had 16 of his 41 hits go for extra bases.

The Spinners play the middle game of a three-game series tonight against the Tigers in Connecticut before coming home to face the Hudson Valley Renegades for three starting Sunday. They head to Aberdeen on Wednesday for three games.

GCL Red Sox (Overall: 40-17 Week: 5-1)

The GCL Sox clinched a playoff spot in impressive fashion with a five-win week. The Red Sox will begin their title defense on Sunday. A win will put them in the three-game final starting on Monday.

Anderson Espinoza is likely to start the game on Sunday. Espinoza, who has only allowed three earned runs in his ten GCL appearances, has been super stingy as of late. In his last four starts, Espinoza has given up seven hits and a single walk. He has struck out 23 batters of the 57 batters he has faced.

If the Red Sox make it to the finals, Roniel Raudes will likely make the start on Monday. In his four stateside appearances, Raudes has gone five scoreless innings three times. In his 20 innings, Raudes has allowed 13 hits while striking out 16.

Logan Allen will likely be the game two starter. Allen has steadily progressed in his seven starts, pitching four innings in each of his last two appearances. In his 20 innings, Allen has allowed two runs on 12 hits with a single walk while striking out 24.

Brandon Magee is our resident minor league expert, but has also written about, Ben Cherington’s departure, the mishandling of injuries by the Red Sox, interim bench coach Dana LeVangie, Pablo SandovalBROCK HOLT!, undrafted free agents, the home run king Mike Hessman, and the baseball and football player, Brandon Magee.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

Check out Brandon’s Shaq Thompson All-Stars and Lisa Carney’s trip to the Dustin Pedroia Twilight Zone.

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