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Barons clinch first-half SL North title06/10/2013 4:57 PM ET
By Danny Wild / MLB.com
Covered in Champagne, Barons manager Julio Vinas had one message for his team.
"I told them, 'Congratulations, enjoy it, you guys deserve it,'" he said, "'but let's win the second half as well.'"
Mike Blanke and Cody Puckett homered to help Double-A Birmingham beat Jacksonville, 7-3, to clinch the Southern League North Division's first-half on Monday afternoon.
After falling to the Suns in the completion of Sunday's suspended game, 7-2. the Barons rallied for their 40th win of the season behind Spencer Arroyo, who held the Suns to a pair of runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five. Daniel Webb closed out the game, allowing a run on three hits over the final two frames of the seven-inning contest.
"It's a great win for us and it's been a great first half," said Vinas, in his first year as skipper at Birmingham. "It's a special bunch of guys, I'm real proud of them and I'm happy to be a part of it."
With the win, Birmingham (40-24) gained a spot in the Southern League playoffs later this year. The division title marks the 10th playoff appearance in the past 14 seasons for the Barons since 2000.
"It was great, good for them, especially knowing they all put in a lot of work," Vinas said. "They're a great bunch of guys, they come ready every day."
It's the first time Vinas has managed a club with a winning record, too -- the third-year skipper finished with records below .500 with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in 2011 and Class A Kannapolis last season but now owns one of the best records in the Minors. Only Durham (40-24), Indianapolis (44-21), Fort Myers (41-19) and South Bend (42-19) have at least as many wins as the Barons.
"It's been a fun year," he said. "Everyone has done a really nice job, the pitching -- [Erik] Johnson, Arroyo has been great, everyone has been a contributing factor."
Marlins' No. 2 prospect Jake Marisnick homered Sunday before the game was suspended and then went deep again Monday, hitting his eighth homer in the third off Arroyo, but the Suns' rally in the seventh fell short when Kyle Jensen lined out with runners at the corners.
Birminghamton gave its starter a five-run cushion in the second when Tyler Saladino hit an RBI double and Puckett doubled him home and scored on Keenyn Walker's single. Trayce Thompson capped the rally with a run-scoring single. Puckett went deep in the fourth, his fifth of the year, and Blanke added his fifth to lead off the sixth.
"Every day it's a different guy," Vinas said. "That's what makes this team so special."
Vinas, who played in the Minors from 1991-2001, said this Barons squad is among the best groups he's been around.
"I can't remember being on a team this hot," he said. "It's always fun to come to the ballpark, especially playing at this incredible new stadium. The atmosphere is great."
Birmingham owns the best record in the Southern League -- Mississippi and Mobile have 33 wins to lead the South Division as of Monday afternoon. The Barons will play the second-half winner in a best-of-5 series to start off the league playoffs.
Jacksonville earned a 7-2 win in the first game, which was halted due to heavy rain on Sunday in the second inning with the Suns ahead, 3-1. Marisnick finished 4-for-5 with three RBIs, falling a double shy of hitting for the cycle. he went 6-for-9 with two homers and five RBIs in the two games.
The Blue Jays' first-round pick in 2009 was traded to Miami in the Jose Reyes deal this past winter and is batting .278 with eight homers, 31 RBIs and a .318 on-base percentage in 39 games in his first season with the Marlins.