One of the hallmarks of the 2019 Aviators squad that captured a Pacific Coast League division title was its ability to win on the road. In fact, Las Vegas in 2019 actually enjoyed more success as a visitor (44-26, tied with El Paso for best road record in the PCL) than at Las Vegas Ballpark (39-31).
Well, judging by their just-concluded, season-long road trip, the Aviators once again look like a team that’s quite comfortable battling it out in enemy territory.
Las Vegas headed north to Sacramento, then east to Albuquerque and won eight of 12 games, taking four of six from both the River Cats and Isotopes. Throw in two victories in the final three games of series at Reno in mid-May, and the Aviators are on a 10-5 roll on the road.
“Since our first three games in Reno, we’ve definitely played solid baseball on the road, and I was particularly pleased with our performance during this long road trip,” Aviators manager Fran Riordan said Wednesday. “Two weeks is a long time to be living out of a suitcase, but our guys remained focused and looked at each day as an opportunity to get better and pick up a ‘W’. It helps to have a roster with a lot of veterans who have been through the rigors of a long baseball season and who can lead the way for the younger guys. Same thing was true with our 2019 team.”
Thanks to the 8-4 road trip — which concluded with three straight wins in Albuquerque — Las Vegas (16-14) has climbed two games over .500 and within three games of first-place Reno in the Triple-A West standings. The Aces make their first visit to Las Vegas Ballpark on Thursday for the start of a six-game series (and 12-game homestand), but they arrive in a bit of a funk: Since a 16-6 start to the season, Reno has dropped five of its last eight, including three of the last four.
Like their instate rivals, though, the Aces (19-11) have found a lot of success on the road, winning nine of 12 games. They also have found a lot of success at the plate, scoring a league-high 205 runs. No other squad in the 10-team Triple-A West has tallied more than 187 runs. Reno also leads the league with 68 doubles, a .287 team batting average and is tied with Sacramento in hits (306).
The Aviators got a first-hand look at the Aces’ potent offense during their six-game series in Reno last month, when the Aces tallied 42 runs in winning four of six games. However, 36 of those runs were scored in three games, including a series-ending 18-3 rout; in the other three contests, Las Vegas surrendered just six runs.
“We’re very much aware that they’ve got a tough lineup from top to bottom,” Riordan said. “But as I always say, it’s all about executing pitches, pounding the strike zone and limiting mistakes. If our guys do that, we’ll be fine. If not, it’s going to be a long series.”
One factor that should work in the Aviators’ favor as they return home for the first time since May 25: They’ll be greeted by a full house at Las Vegas Ballpark, as pandemic-related capacity restrictions have been lifted. That means this year’s team will finally get its first taste of what it’s like to play before crowds that are expected to approach 10,000 nightly.
“I know I’m excited to once again see sold-out crowds at Las Vegas Ballpark,” Riordan said. “That place was so electric in 2019 and seeing all those fans absolutely gave our team a boost every single night. Our players are in for treat.”
HITTING THEIR STRIDE: After producing just eight runs in losing two of the first three games in Albuquerque, Las Vegas exploded for 25 runs in winning the final three contests by scores of 11-8, 9-8 and 5-4.
Catcher Austin Allen had his best series of the season, going 9-for-17 with three home runs and five RBI, while first baseman Frank Schwindel caught fire in the final two games, going 4-for-8 with three homers and four RBI. Outfielder Greg Deichmann also had another productive series, going for 5-for-17 with a homer, three RBI, four runs and a double. Deichmann finished the road trip 10-for-36 with three homers, 10 RBI, eight runs, three doubles, a triple and seven walks.
LEADING THE WAY: Through the first 30 games of the 120-game season, Schwindel leads all active Aviators players in multiple offensive categories, including batting average (.295), hits (33), home runs (8) and runs (25). He ranks second in RBI with 18, three behind catcher Francisco Peña.
Deichmann leads the club in OPS (.954), walks (22) and stolen bases (5), while ranking right behind Schwindel in batting average (.293) and runs (18). Third baseman Jacob Wilson has a team-high nine doubles.
INJURY REPORT: Deichmann tweaked his hamstring during Monday’s game against the Isotopes and sat out the series finale. He’s listed as day-to-day, as is infielder Edwin Diaz, who suffered an oblique injury in Sunday’s contest. Diaz had replaced fellow infielder Mikey White, who broke his hand during the game. With White headed to the injured list, outfielder Mickey McDonald has been promoted from Double-A Midland (Texas) and will join the Aviators in time for Thursday’s game.
PROMOTIONS IN MOTION: The Aviators are celebrating Las Vegas Ballpark’s return to full capacity with several promotional nights during the upcoming 12-game homestand. Those promotions include:
• $2 Beer Night on Thursday (vs. Reno) and June 17 (vs. Tacoma)
• Fireworks show following Friday’s game (vs. Reno)
• Free Aviators auto shade on Saturday (vs. Reno)
• Copa de la Diversión games on Tuesday (vs. Reno) and June 22 (vs. Tacoma), when the Aviators don their Reyes de Plata jerseys
• Free Aviators T-shirt on June 18 (vs. Tacoma)
• Free Aviators team poster on June 19 and June 20 (vs. Tacoma)
• Pride Night on June 21 (vs. Tacoma)
ON DECK: Right-handed pitchers Brian Howard (1-2, 5.01 ERA), Matt Milburn (1-2, 10.66) and Grant Holmes (0-1, 11.85) are scheduled to start the first three games of the series against Reno. The Aces have yet to announce their starting rotation.
First pitch throughout the 12-game homestand is 7:05 p.m., except for 12:05 p.m. matinee games on Sunday vs. Reno and June 20 vs. Tacoma.
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