All year, the Jackson Generals have been pitching their way to victory. So it makes sense that Monday, starter Brandon Maurer carried them to a division-clinching win.
The Mariners prospect struck out seven over 7 1/3 scoreless innings as Double-A Jackson routed the Jacksonville Suns, 8-0, to take the Southern League North Division's first-half title.
The Generals got some help from the division-rival Huntsville Stars as well. The Stars dropped both games of a doubleheader against the Mobile BayBears -- including an opener in which they allowed a five-run comeback with two innings to play -- to officially yield the first-half crown.
"From a team concept, it's what it's all about is playing for championships," manager Jim Pankovits said. "It's a lot better to win the first half obviously. It allows you to prepare for the playoffs. Overall, I just couldn't be more proud of what this team has accomplished."
Maurer (5-1) ended up scattering six hits and one walk on the day as he lowered his ERA from 3.80 to 3.42. Yoervis Medina, Bobby LaFromboise and Carter Capps combined to finish the game, allowing two baserunners in 1 2/3 frames.
Led by a rotation that includes three of the Mariners' top prospects -- No. 1 Danny Hultzen, No. 2 Taijuan Walker and No. 4 James Paxton -- the Generals have put together a league-leading 3.02 ERA and eight shutouts this year. The Suns are the next-best pitching team with a 3.61 ERA.
"It's by far the best [staff] that I have ever worked with and probably ever will," said Pankovits, who is in his 14th season as a Minor League manager. "There's numerous big-league pitchers in the future on this staff, and it's going be fun to watch their progress and their careers."
The offense is not barren either as Jackson places first in the league in slugging percentage (.385) and second in batting average (.257). The team's best hitter has been No. 3 prospect Nick Franklin, who went 2-for-5 on Monday to improve his average to .325.
With a playoff berth now clinched, what does Pankovits think his team's chances are of a Southern League title?
"That's obviously going to be our goal," he said. "I know there will be some movement at the halfway point of the season, and I'm expecting the Mariners to promote some players that are certainly capable of playing at the Double-A level and who would help us compete for a championship."