June 5th, 2014
By: Jay Wallis and Chris Vosters
With June upon us, the race for the first-half division title in the Texas League is in full swing. Frisco reaches the season’s midway point on June 16 against the Midland RockHounds. The ‘Riders are in the midst of a pivotal eight-game homestand and will play out the final six games of the first half on the road.
The RoughRiders entered the month atop the south division, but with all three division rivals in hot pursuit. Every team owns a winning record, which makes the playoff hunt a four-way chase. Let’s spotlight Frisco’s competition down the stretch.
San Antonio: They may have gotten off to a sluggish start in the beginning of the year, but the Missions have really picked up their level of play of late. After falling seven games below .500 in mid-May, San Antonio has since then jumped right back in the playoff hunt thanks to sustained pitching and improved hitting. As a team, the Missions hold the best ERA in the Texas League (2.99) while their closer, Johnny Barbato, leads the league in saves (15). This exceptional pitching has been present for the majority of the season but the hitting hasn’t always been comparable. However, with the emergence of outfielders Rymer Liriano and Yeison Asencio, who was named Texas League Player of the Week for May 19-25, the bats are finally making some noise. If the Missions can continue to improve at the plate during the second half of the season, they could give the ‘Riders trouble, especially since San Antonio is the only team Frisco doesn’t have a winning record against.
Midland: Out of the four Texas League teams in the south division, the RockHounds got off to the best start and held the divisional lead at the end of April. Josh Whitaker and Max Muncy both are Texas League leaders in multiple batting categories and have been the catalyst for Midland’s offense. During a four-game series with the RoughRiders in early May, though, they lost three of four and handed over their position atop the south to the ‘Riders. In addition to losing the series, Muncy suffered a lacerated finger in the second game, causing the first baseman to miss the next 17 games and put a hole in his team’s lineup. The RockHounds ended up losing 17 of 30 games in May, creating more of a gap between the ‘Riders and their competition. If Muncy can regain his confidence at the plate that he has yet to recapture since returning from the DL, it should provide a substantial spark for Midland’s offense moving forward.
Corpus Christi: The ‘Riders have handled the Hooks in 8-of-12 meetings this season. However, the teams’ four remaining meetings before the end of the first half take place under the lights of Whataburger Field. While some teams undergo hot streaks and cold spells, the Hooks’ calling card is their consistency: the Astros’ Double-A affiliate finished 14-12 in April and 15-14 in May. In both pitching and hitting, the Hooks rank in the top half of the Texas League. The ‘Riders hope to avoid damage from Corpus Christi’s Preston Tucker, a seventh round draft choice in 2012. The slugger is batting .319 against the Frisco this season with six doubles and two home runs. The 6-foot, 200-pound lefty ranks near the top of the Texas League in a multitude of categories, namely home runs, RBI, hits and doubles.
Frisco faces a daunting task, but it is important for the RoughRiders and their fans to remember the traits that placed the ‘Riders in a strong position to clinch a postseason berth: a winning record at home, contributions throughout the batting order and strong team chemistry. If the team adheres to that formula, fans can look forward to postseason baseball at Dr Pepper Ballpark come September.
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Magic Number: 9
Frisco drew even in its series with the Missions thanks to a 6-0 shutout on Wednesday. Click here to read the full game recap.
Dropping the first two games in this series would have spelled trouble for the ‘Riders (34-23), who would have been forced to win the final pair in the set just to salvage a split and keep the persistent Missions (30-28) at arm’s length.
Furthermore, the Midland RockHounds (31-27) won their second straight game last night, and thereby claimed sole possession of second place in the standings. Nonetheless, the ‘Riders remain 3 1/2 games up on the Hounds, and cut the Magic Number to below ten with the win.
To calculate the Magic Number, determine the number of games yet to be played (12), add one (12+1=13), and subtract the number of games ahead in the loss column of the standings from the closest opponent (13-4=9).
It behooves both teams to win Thursday’s game with the series now knotted at a game apiece. Strong starting pitching told the tale of the first two meetings (Juan Oramas on Tuesday and Luke Jackson on Wednesday). That motiff may end tonight given the pitching matchup; it could be a high-scoring affair at the Doc.
Both starters hold a 1-3 record. Australian John Hussey owns a 4.54 ERA this season as he makes his second start and fifth appearance against the ‘Riders in 2014. Hussey does have a win against Frisco (May 2), but opponents are batting .309 against the righty.
Like Hussey, Ryan Bores’ ERA would be much higher were it not for eight unearned runs in his stat line. Bores carries a 3.57 ERA, but has allowed 15 runs (seven earned) in 17 2/3 innings with the ‘Riders this year. The other team bats .352 against him this year, and Bores suffered a loss in his last three outings.
Against Springfield on May 30, the right-hander surrendered a grand slam to Jacob Wilson in the second inning to blow the game open in favor of the Cardinals (Frisco lost the game 8-4). All half dozen runs were unearned because of an error on Drew Robinson at first base, but Bores allowed five straight runners to reach base with two outs in the inning.
In case you missed it: For the second time this season, the RoughRiders shut out the Missions by a 6-0 final score. Luke Jackson was the starting pitcher on both occasions. The first happenstance occurred on April 21 when Jackson took a perfect game into the sixth. In those two games, Jackson has allowed no runs on seven hits with two walks and 12 strikeouts over 13 innings. The righty tops the Texas League with seven wins this season.
There have been four shutouts in the season series thus far (three by Frisco, one by San Antonio).
Rehabber Jim Adduci played in left field in his second game with the ‘Riders. The lefty played first base on Tuesday. Adduci took a poor angle on a Cody Overbeck double to left in the fourth inning, but settled in nicely as the game progressed and made a tumbling snare on a line drive by Yeison Asencio to retire the side in the seventh. The Missions had runners on first and second at the time and Adduci’s grab almost assuredly saved a run. Adduci also belted an RBI triple in the third inning and looked gassed after he slid head first into third. He wore a protective mitten over his left hand to guard his injured little finger, which he fractured on a head first slide into second base on April 18. Jake Skole replaced Adduci in left field after the eighth inning. Jake Smolinski made his third appearance of the season in right field. He has made 42 starts in left.
San Antonio manager Rich Dauer submitted an identical lineup for games one and two of the series. However, by the end of the night, the Dauer instituted two defensive replacements, a pinch hitter and two other position adjustments. Lots of scratch marks on the scorecard last night.
Star of the Game: RHP Luke Jackson - 6.0IP, 4H, 0R, 2BB, 4K
Jackson is now 7-2 on the season with the fourth-lowest ERA (2.55) in the Texas League. His 65 strikeouts rank second in the league. Sixty-two of Jackson’s 94 pitches were for strikes, and although his pitch count ran a touch high after four innings (70), the native of Florida buckled down and threw 24 pitches the rest of the way while his velocity never wavered.
Honorable mention goes to Ryan Rua, who batted 2-for-3 with a walk and a pair of runs. It was the third straight multi-hit night for Rua, who raised his batting average to .315, fourth-highest in the Texas League. He now has an 11-game on-base streak.
Enjoy the highlights, and thanks for tuning in.