The Portland Sea Dogs are 27-12 since the Eastern League All-Star break, and playoff-hungry Bryce Brentz has his hands all over the late-summer surge.
The Red Sox's top prospect homered twice and drove in four runs on a 4-for-5 night Wednesday to power the Sea Dogs to a 7-2 victory at New Britain.
Brentz singled and doubled in his first multi-homer game since Aug. 2, 2011, when he slugged a pair of solo shots for Class A Advanced Salem.
"It feels good. We're making a playoff push and we're all chipping in," he said. "I had a big night, we had 15 hits, and with the offense we have, it's good. We're trying to get into the hunt for a playoff spot, so every pitch counts."
Brentz demonstrated that theory against the Rock Cats, turning in his third game with a least four RBIs this year. He ripped a solo homer in the fifth and added a two-run blast to cap a three-run seventh.
The 23-year-old outfielder/DH had delivered an RBI double in the first and singled in the ninth as Portland (63-66) climbed within 4 1/2 games of New Britain (68-62) and Reading (68-62) for a Wild Card playoff spot.
Brentz knows a postseason berth would be huge for Boston's Double-A affiliate. Since the All-Star break, he's batting .293 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 32 games to help propel the Dogs back into the playoff race. And, lately, he's done it without teammate and Red Sox No. 5 prospect Jackie Bradley Jr.
"I think it'd be good," Brentz said. "The fans came out and watched us play early on and we're a great team. We're just putting the pieces together and everything is going [well]. It's a fun team to watch and I think it'd be great. A lot of us haven't been to the playoffs before."
The Middle Tennessee State product collected a season-high five RBIs on Aug. 5 when he went 3-for-5 with a homer against Erie. He's hitting .400 in August, with 10 RBIs in his last 10 games.
Against New Britain, his first homer came off Rock Cats starter Luke French.
"He got me in the at-bat before, fastball in, and he threw me a changeup away, first pitch," Brentz said. "I was sitting more or less the same spot, I hit a changeup in my first at-bat for a double. I turned on it, had a good swing, got enough to get it out of the park."
Two innings later against Blake Martin, Brentz came up with Ryan Dent on second and a run already in.
"I had a guy on first and he threw me a first-pitch slider for ball one, then a fastball away for ball two. He had a little bit more on his fastball," he said. "[On a] 2-0 count, I stuck with the same approach, got a fastball middle-in and got a good swing, had a good approach, didn't do too much."
Brentz, a 2010 first-round pick, is batting .290 with 17 homers and 69 RBIs in 115 games. He won't quite reach the heights of his breakout 2011 campaign when he had 30 homers and 94 RBIs, but after a slow April, he's turned things on this summer. Brentz batted .388 in May, knocked in 19 runs in 25 games in June and added 15 RBIs in July.
"I've always been a streaky hitter, no doubt," he said. "But I'm trying to stay more consistent. July was a struggle and part of it was me trying to do a little more than I had been doing. I've tried to stay back and work behind the baseball, I did a lot of work and looked at certain situations and was able to pull it back out and get back to what I was doing previously."
Brentz is batting .302 against left-handed pitchers and .286 against righties. He's been especially clutch with runners on, hitting .300.
"I'm driving the ball, seeing good pitches," he said. "You get to the point where you trying to do more in terms of effort and everything goes south. We're back to saying, 'Hey, keep it simple,' and go from there."
Of course, staying relaxed isn't easy for five straight months, especially when Red Sox Nation now views him as the next big thing. Brentz said he hasn't let his prospect status mess with his head too much.
"Not really. It's out of my hands," he said after graduating to Boston's top prospect following the promotions of Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway. "I try to show up, play every day and see what happens. I'm really blessed [MLB.com] put me there, so hopefully I keep playing well and we'll see what happens."
As for Bradley, he missed his second straight game after injuring his ankle rounding second base on Monday. Brentz said Bradley has been walking around, although he doesn't know the status of the injury.
"It's been awesome," he said of playing with Bradley. "He's usually on at least three times a game, he works the count and you get to watch all the pitches. He gets on base, he's a threat to steal, and playing the outfield with him is a lot of fun, too. He's a great teammate."
Sea Dogs starter Stolmy Pimentel (5-6) earned the win, holding New Britain to a pair of runs -- one earned -- on four hits over six innings.