LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Every year across America, baseball's regular season starts to heat up about the same time as the temperatures. This year is no exception, as the thermometer in the Ohio Valley has remained near triple digits over the past week, and the baseball season is nearing its halfway point, where contenders are separated from pretenders.
For the Louisville Bats, a season that looked to be going to south over the first month has taken a turn for the better, as the team tries to dig itself out of early season hole that saw them fall to 11 games under .500. With the club now sitting at 34-40, there is still much work to be done, but the offense has started to come around, and the pitching has been solid since the advent of the season back on April 8th. Below is a team outlook, followed by a review of its pitching staff and positional players.
Overall Team Performance
Louisville took a seat near the bottom of the International League after suffering through a brutal 7-15 month of April when they struggled to hit. Since then, the team's bats have awoken, spawning a 17-13 mark in May, which included a mid-month, five-game winning streak at Slugger Field. Since the calendar has flipped to June, Louisville has hovered around the .500 mark, going 10-12 against some of the league's best competition.
Although the Bats still sit six games under the break-even point, things seem to be promising for the season's second half, as it seems the team's run of bad luck has to run out. Close losses have been an all-too-common theme for the club this season, posting an 8-14 record in one-run games, and dropping six contests in their opponents' final at-bat.
With over 70 games to go, Louisville sits ten games back of the Columbus Clippers in their quest to capture a third consecutive IL West division title. The club is also looking up in the standings at the division rival Toledo Mud Hens and Indianapolis Indians. While this deficit is by no means insurmountable, the Bats will need to cure their late game ails, as well as continue to do the things they have done well, such as wear out left-handed pitching. Louisville is 14-8 so far this year against left-handed starters, and has also played much better at Slugger Field (19-19) than on the road (15-21).
Thanks to a nucleus of starting pitchers that have been dynamite over the first half of the year, Louisville ranks near the top of the league in most pitching and defensive statistical categories, giving up the second fewest runs, and ranking fourth with a 3.72 ERA. Leading the Bats' starting rotation for the duration of the season have been top prospects Travis Wood, Matt Maloney, and Aroldis Chapman. Right-hander Sam LeCure may have been pitching better than anyone on the roster, but he was called up to Cincinnati on May 27th, where he has remained a productive starter since making his major-league debut. Luckily, Chad Reineke has moved over from bullpen duties since LeCure's promotion to offer the Bats another solid starter over the past month.
Louisville's bullpen has actually posted a lower ERA than its starters, although their cast of characters has been a revolving door since the season began. Although relievers Jon Adkins and Jesus Delgado have both been with the club for the entire season, Carlos Fisher, Enerio Del Rosario, and Logan Ondrusek have all flip-flopped between Cincinnati and Louisville. Fisher and Del Rosario are both back in Louisville after up-and-down tenures with the Reds, while Jared Burton, who played with Cincinnati last year, is also currently on the roster after starting the season on the disabled list. Relievers Frederico Baez, Joe Krebs, and Pedro Viola, who all appeared out of the Bats' bullpen over the season's first few months, have given way on the roster over the last few weeks to Bill Bray, who is coming off a 2009 season-ending injury, and Phillipe Valiquette, a 23-year-old, left-handed prospect.
Louisville's middle infield has been a rock all season, as shortstop Zach Cozart has started every game, while Chris Valaika has taken part in every contest except two, mostly at second base. Both players, who are under 25, have been steady, while also enjoying productive seasons at the dish. Valaika is hitting near the .300 mark, while Cozart ranks in the top ten of the league in runs, doubles, and stolen bases.
Both corner infield positions have been hit by injuries, as 3B Juan Francisco and 1B Danny Dorn have both spent substantial time on the disabled list. Dorn, who started 20 games at first base, went on the DL May 12th with a fractured hand, opening the door for former #1 pick Yonder Alonso to become the everyday first baseman. Although Alonso has shown flashes, Dorn is scheduled to return to the club soon, and the consistency and power he has shown over the past two seasons with the Bats should allow him to keep his roster spot. Francisco has come up through the Reds system as a top prospect at third base, but his injury has given some starts at the position to Baseball America #1 prospect Todd Frazier, who has split time between third and left field. Both players have displayed major-league power, although Frazier's average has dipped a bit from the impressive numbers he put up last year.
In the outfield, Luis Terrero and Wladimir Balentien have both supplied some power from their corner outfield and designated hitter spots, while Louisville native Chris Burke has been an everyday fixture, mostly in center field. Utility man Drew Sutton, who had a brief, three-day stint with the Reds in late May, has played five different positions defensively, and has hit in every spot in the batting order. Sutton's season has been highlighted by a 35-game on-base streak that is the longest in the league in 2010. Michael Griffin and Wilkin Castillo have also both been productive while playing multiple positions, as Griffin is hitting .309 and Castillo has already tied his career-high home run total (6).
Corky Miller was enjoying an excellent season behind the plate until Ryan Hanigan's injury gave him an opportunity with the Reds. With Miller's departure, Castillo has been featured a bit more at catcher, and Chris Denove came up from double-A to give Louisville another option, not to mention an additional .300 hitter.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.