It's one of the realities of life in the Pacific Coast League - always has been, always will be: It's a hitter's paradise and a pitcher's worst nightmare. That said, there are those random moments over the course of a five-month season when the script flips and the pitchers not only gain the upper-hand, but they actually enjoy coming to work.
Suffice it to say, the Aviators are in the midst of one of those random moments - particularly as it pertains to their starting staff, which has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts. Paul Blackburn continued the streak Friday by yielding just two runs on five hits in five innings in the finale of a three-game series at Nashville.
Although the Aviators (36-32) lost 3-2 and dropped two of three in the series, the pitchers certainly weren't to blame. Blackburn, Tyler Alexander and Jake Buchanan combined to hold the Sounds to just seven runs (four earned) over 16 innings, and in all Las Vegas surrendered just nine runs in the series (while scoring 11).
Just how good have the Aviators' starters been lately? In seven games since an ugly 26-11 loss to the Round Rock Express at Las Vegas Ballpark on June 6, Aviators starters have surrendered just 12 runs (nine earned), 26 hits and 14 walks while racking up 32 strikeouts in 37 innings. That equates to a Greg Maddux-like 2.19 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
Lefty Tyler Alexander is the lone starter to pitch twice during this hot streak, picking up a pair of victories at home (8-2 over the San Antonio Missions on June 7) and on the road (9-4 at Nashville on Thursday). In those two contests, Alexander lowered his ERA more than a run from 6.85 to 5.71 after allowing a combined four runs (one earned) on eight hits with 16 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Besides Alexander and Blackburn, Las Vegas has gotten quality starts from right-handers Parker Dunshee (6 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts), Daniel Mengden (6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts), and Jake Buchanan (6 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts). Even southpaw reliever Kyle Lobstein contributed in a big way, kicking off a "bullpen game" June 8 by tossing three hitless and scoreless innings after being pressed into action when roster moves required a fill-in starter
Alas, this being the PCL, the odds aren't exactly in favor of the Aviators' starters continuing this run of dominance through the end of the month, let alone for the remainder of the season. Still, anytime a starting staff posts a 2.19 ERA over a seven-game stretch - and doesn't allow more than two earned runs in any of those contests - that's a noteworthy accomplishment.
And in the PCL? It's darn-near the equivalent of tossing seven straight shutouts.
WHAT A RELIEF: Although Miguel Romero (2-1) took the loss Friday after giving up the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, the Aviators' bullpen also was outstanding in Nashville. Over the three games, Romero, Lobstein, Ben Bracewell, J.B. Wendelken, Trey McNutt, Ryan Dull and closer Brian Schlitter combined to yield just two runs on five hits over nine innings. Most impressively, those seven pitchers notched 12 strikeouts and issued just one walk.
ON THE OTHER HAND: Unfortunately for the Aviators, while the pitchers are in a groove, the offense is in a bit of a funk, having been limited to two runs or fewer in four of the past six games. Las Vegas dropped all four of those games, but ironically won the other two by a combined score of 26-11.
During the Nashville series, outfielder Nick Martini and third baseman Sheldon Neuse were the offensive catalysts. Martini went 4-for-10 with three walks and a run scored, while Neuse was 5-for-9 with a walk, two runs and two RBI. Martini - who had the only two hits in Las Vegas' 2-0 loss at Nashville in Thursday's series-opener - has now hit safely in six straight games (9-for-22) and 10 of the last 11. During that 11-game span, he's raised his batting average from .322 to .347.
ON DECK: Following Friday's game, the Aviators hopped on a bus and headed 210 miles west to Memphis, where they will kick off a four-game series Saturday against the defending PCL champs. Las Vegas remains solidly in second place in the Pacific Conference's Southern Division, 6½ games behind El Paso. Meanwhile, the Redbirds (29-39) are currently in third place in the American Conference's Northern Division, 7½ games back of the first-place Iowa Cubs.
Dunshee (1-4, 5.64 ERA) is set to take the ball for Las Vegas in the series-opener and oppose fellow right-hander Harold Arauz (3-0, 4.71). First pitch is at 4:35 p.m. Pacific Time.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.