A starting rotation that has been close to unhittable for the last week hasn't received matched attainment by the offense.
The Buffalo Bisons dropped the finale of a four-game series against the last place team in the International League South, the Gwinnett Braves, Thursday afternoon in front of 8,206 at Coca-Cola Field, 3-2. Not only did the loss give Justin Germano a loss despite going eight strong innings, but it also means the Bisons with a 3-1 series loss against a team that entered the set on a five-game losing streak.
"It was one of those days where several different things were out of whack and we really didn't put any runs on the board early when we should have," said manager Marty Brown, whose team grounded into four inning-ending double plays.
Germano made it four straight quality starts for Bisons' pitchers, giving up the three runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out three. He effectively sustained the success of a starting staff that entered the game with a 2.23 ERA in its last seven games.
In a bit of a role reversal, the pitching has carried the team for the better part of June. Early in the season, it was an offense that ranked near or at the top of the IL in hitting guiding the team to victory due to a team ERA that was, for the most part, at the bottom of the league.
The starters' ERA in June is now below 4.50, which is a big improvement from posting an 8.38 in May. Over the last six games, the Bisons have allowed 20 runs, but have just 16 of their own en route to a 2-4 record.
The two haven't been able to get in synch during a 7-12 June, and Buffalo sits 36-36, third in the IL North, at the half-way point of the season. It's the first time since April 14 the Herd is .500.
"On the offensive side, we swung the bats early (in the season), didn't really have the starting pitching, or the guys weren't really in-tune like they are now," Brown said. "Now, it's kind of switched around. We've got our work to do. It's not for a lack of getting out and getting some things accomplished on the field before the game. It's more about the mindset of the hitter and playing more as a team."
The Bisons did manage 10 hits, but didn't come through with runs until they sent eight to the plate in the ninth. Ryan Goins' two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded, followed by a Eugenio Velez walk put the winning run on second, but Mike McCoy flew out the end the comeback bid.
Buffalo got on base, but it was keeping runners on that plagued them. There was ample opportunity early to take a lead but inopportune at-bats coupled with great defensive plays by the Braves stymied the chances.
Exemplifying its inability to advance runners on the base paths was Buffalo getting four hits over the first two innings while sending only seven hitters to the plate and coming away with nothing. Both of the frames ended on double-play ground balls, including Paul Janish diving to rob Sean Ochinko of a hit and starting the 6-4-3 twin-killing.
It was more of the same in the fourth inning, when Luis Jimenez hit a one-out double and Moises Sierra followed with a single to place runners on the corners. Again, Braves' starter David Hale induced a double-play grounder, this time Ricardo Nanita being the victim, to end the Bisons' bid for runs. Ochinko grounded into yet another twin-killing in the seventh.
"We squandered some chances early on," Brown said. "We hit into four double plays, I believe. That really killed us, they played really well defensively. We put some hits together but not until late, and that happened with two outs."
Germano was brilliant in the outing, his only trouble occurring in the fourth.
Todd Cunningham led off the inning with a single, which was the initial hit given up by Germano. With Cunningham reaching third on a groundout and wild pitch and Germano nearly out of trouble with two outs, Boggs discontinued the scoreless tie.
The right-hander, who started Opening Day, threw 21 pitches in the frame, his longest frame of the day. He had terrific command, tossing 69 of 101 pitches for strikes, and four innings took less than 10 pitches to get out of.
Fast starts and carrying low-hit numbers through the early innings has been commonplace for Buffalo's starters lately and the biggest key to their recent success. Germano's showing is the sixth quality start in the last eight games, a stretch that has saw two no-hit bids enter the seventh inning.
"I think it's just guys putting together good outings and they're feeding off of each other," Brown said.
Ernesto Mejia added two insurance runs, which eventually were the difference, with his 17th home run over the left-center field fence in the eighth.
Brown noted to regain the prowess of a once-potent attack, it needs to establish baserunners early in innings to press the opponent's pitching and defense more.
"We hit a bit of a lull, so it's our staff's responsibility to get them together and do what we have to do to get them back to that mode of a lead-off hitter is exactly that, he's a lead-off in whatever inning," Brown said. "You have nine lead-off hitters every game. … You have get on base, have to make things happen. That's something we haven't been very good at."
The Herd will continue its eight-game homestand Friday with the opener of a four-game series against the IL South-leading Durham Bulls. There will be some added prominence in Buffalo's lineup for most of the series, and that may get it going.
Jose Reyes, the Toronto Blue Jays' four-time All-Star shortstop, will continue his MLB rehab assignment that started Monday in Single-A Dunedin. The speedster has been on the disabled list with an injured ankle since April 12 and is likely to play the next three games for the Herd.
Thad Weber, who pitched seven hitless innings in Pawtucket in his last start on Saturday, and his 2.20 ERA will take the hill Friday. He will duel with the owner of the fourth-lowest ERA among qualifying pitchers in the IL with a 2.89, J.D. Martin.
BISONS NOTES: The Bisons lost a home series to the Braves, who joined the IL in 2009, for the first time ever. The teams split a four-game set in 2009, and the Herd took each of the next three series', 3-1…Germano induced 13 ground outs and five fly outs…His record fell to 4-6 with the loss, though he improved his ERA to 5.92…The Bisons were 2 for 7 with runners in scoring position…Anthony Gose had the day off.