After starting franchise history with three consecutive sub-.500 seasons (2008-10), the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (72-72) completed their third straight season with at least a .500 record. In fact, although missing the International League postseason for the second consecutive season, the Pigs remained alive in the playoff chase until finally being eliminated with just two days remaining in the 2013 campaign.
Under first-year Pigs skipper Dave Brundage, who joined the Phillies organization after managing the Atlanta Triple-A affiliate the previous six seasons, LHV was highly competitive all year long despite a franchise-record 22 different players promoted to Philadelphia (and three more after the final game).
At the start of the season, pitching was expected to be the strength of the Pigs. Despite ultimately losing four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation (and the fifth, LHP Adam Morgan, missed 52 games while on the Disabled List), it was eventually the pitching that kept the Pigs alive in the end. After a rocky first half in which the staff was second to last in the IL in ERA (4.86) after 72 contests, pitching coach Ray Burris orchestrated a rapid improvement that culminated in a 3.08 ERA over the final 72 affairs.
The hot pitching of prospect RHP Ethan Martin helped propel the Pigs from a sluggish start to a run in the middle of the season. Fueled in part by a pair of four-start winning streaks from the former Dodgers' first-rounder, the Pigs held at least a share of the Wild Card lead from June 19-29 and for a total of 14 days over a 23-day span that ended on July 11. Martin became the fastest Pigs pitcher to 11 wins in a season (July 23) and was undefeated in prior six starts before a promotion to Philadelphia on Aug. 2. He left for good 11-5, 4.12 in 21 GS - one win of tying RHP Tyler Cloyd's franchise record of 12 in a season (2012).
Speaking of Cloyd, the 2012 I.L. Pitcher of the Year got off to a slow start in Triple-A before anchoring the squad following the return from his second stint in Philadelphia. From July 9 on, the 25-year-old flashed his 2012 form and some - going 4-1, 1.36 in his final 8 GS and becoming the first Pigs pitcher ever to record a complete game in back-to-back, nine-inning affairs.
Yet, perhaps the most influential piece to the Pigs success may have been veteran LHP Greg Smith, who wasn't even a member of the organization at the start of the season (he was signed by the Phillies on May 6 and assigned to LHV on May 21). As a starter, Smith didn't allow a run until the sixth inning of his fifth start with the Pigs - going a total of 25.2 IP before finally surrendering a score. Though winless in his final three starts, the 29-year-old finished an impressive 8-4, 3.31 in 23 G, 14 G.
The bullpen also did its part down the stretch to bolster the team's playoff aspirations. Led by a revolving cast, the corps finished the final 26 games with a combined record of 4-3, 1.68 and 6 SV from Aug. 8 on.
LHP Mauricio Robles developed as a headliner of the group, finishing the season with a 2013 LHV-high 19.0 IP scoreless streak over his final 17 appearances (2-0, 0.00, 4 SV. 3 H). Take out one rough outing (7/11 vs. BUF) and the former Mariners' prospect went 2-1, 0.74, 7 SV in 33 G after being promoted from Reading on May 17.
Other key relievers made fabulous strides in 2013, including RHP Zach Miner, RHP J.C. Ramirez, RHP Luis Garcia and LHP Cesar Jimenez, all of whom made their Phillies debut during the summer. During the course of the season, 10 different Pigs relievers were summoned by Philadelphia.
Offensively, the Pigs were clicking well in the middle of the year before losing the No. 3 and No. 4 batters in their lineup to Philadelphia in 3B Cody Asche (July 30) and OF Darin Ruf (July 6). Asche, one of the Pigs two I.L. postseason all-stars, departed ranked second in the league in hits (119), third in total bases (196) and fourth in RBI (68). In fact, over his final 33 G in Triple-A, the 23-year-old batted .354-7-26 - for the IL's second best OPS (1.013) in the span.
The Pigs other postseason all-star, 2B/OF Cesar Hernandez continued his consistent offensive play all season despite a two-week promotion to Philadelphia (May 29-June 12), a three-week hiatus due to a wrist injury (July 23 - August 15) and learning to play outfield for essentially the first time in his career. Through it all, the 23-year-old finished first in the IL in triples (9), third in average (.309) and sixth in stolen bases (32). In fact, from June 18 on, he led the league in batting (.330).
Power-hitting 1B Cody Overbeck led the team in home runs (19) for the second straight campaign. The 27-year-old also provided one of the more exciting highlights of the year when he tied Mike Cervenak (2008) for LHV's all-time longest hitting streak within one season - an 18-gamer from July 23 to Aug. 9 - and second-longest overall (Domonic Brown hit in 21 straight with the Pigs between 2010-11).
Towards the end of the season, the Pigs got key contributions from newcomers INF Tyler Henson (.316-4-14 in 31 G) and C Cameron Rupp (.269-6-24 in 53) as they attempted win the North Division or the Wild Card.
In fact, third-year hitting coach Sal Rende guided the Pigs to a .267 team average - finishing less than .00007 behind Durham for tops in the circuit! Even so, the team's second-place finish in batting was by far the franchise's best (previously 8th at .257 in 2012).
Although finishing in fourth place in the North Division, Lehigh Valley maintained its success at the gates. With 613,075 visitors at Coca-Cola Park in 2013, the Pigs have the exclusive distinction of being the only Minor League franchise to eclipse the elusive 600,000 attendance barrier for each of the last six campaigns. The 9,016 per-game average for the club's official 68 home games marks the fifth straight season the Pigs averaged over 9,000 fans per game.