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Winning ways carry over to Lugnuts06/09/2012 11:10 PM ET
By Jonathan Raymond / Special to MLB.com
The Lansing Lugnuts are comprised largely of players from the 2011 editions of short-season Vancouver and Rookie-level Bluefield. The Canadians captured the Northwest League championship, while the Blue Jays lost in the Appalachian League Finals.
Before the summer ends, the Class A Lugnuts will get a shot at their own crown.
Lansing built an early six-run lead Saturday and held on for a 6-5 victory over Lake County, clinching the Midwest League East Division first-half division title.
"They're having a blast," said manager John Tamargo, whose team is one win away from tying the team record for a single half (43). "The thing is these guys that are here were in Vancouver last year, won the Northwest League, and the others were in Bluefield that made it to the Championship Series, so they come every day to win. They work hard, they play hard. [Winning] is what they expect."
The Lugnuts got contributions from several players to clinch their first division title since 2008. Third baseman Gustavo Pierre drove in two runs, right fielder Kevin Pillar went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Andy Fermin and Markus Brisker drove in Lansing's other runs.
Pillar leads the team with a .319 average and 31 RBIs, and shortstop Andy Burns has slugged seven homers.
David Rollins (5-0) remained unbeaten after scattering four runs -- three earned -- on six hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings. He has a 3.21 ERA and 53 strikeouts over 56 innings.
Lansing has been able to count on its pitching virtually all season. The Lugnuts lead the league in ERA (2.81) and shutouts (9), thanks to some of the Blue Jays' top prospects. No. 4 Noah Syndergaard is 3-2 with a 4.31 ERA and 51 strikeouts, No. 6 Justin Nicolino sports a 1.47 ERA and No. 8 Aaron Sanchez has a 0.66 ERA.
At the top of the rotation, Jesse Hernandez is 4-3 with a 2.42 ERA over 11 starts. And in the bullpen, Ajay Meyer worked a 1-2-3 ninth on Saturday to earn his league-leading 19th save in 24 chances.
"Nicolino, Sanchez, Syndergaard, Hernandez -- our pitching has really carried us," Tamargo said. "The Toronto Blue Jays want to develop winning Major League players, so the more they win in the Minors, the better off they are in the long run. Their ultimate goal is not to be in the Midwest League, it's to play in the Major Leagues, so they come here every day to improve as ballplayers."