Even though they wrapped up the Southern League South Division first-half title with a 9-3 win over Jacksonville, the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos had to wait patiently before popping Champagne. That's because there was more baseball to be played.
A 1-0 loss in the nightcap of the doubleheader at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville didn't do much to spoil the party.
"We didn't really get much time to celebrate after the first game," Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. "We came into the clubhouse, changed into some dry clothes, had a hot dog and soda and then had to get right back out there. But after the second game, we got the chance to celebrate."
Gameday box score
Rehabbing Major Leaguer Brandon Finnegan threw four one-hit frames and Reds No. 23 prospect Alex Blandino hit a three-run homer to lead the Blue Wahoos to their fourth consecutive South Division crown, dating to the second-half title in 2015.
Video: Pensacola clinches division
"It was just about gettting those last three outs," Kelly said. "Our bullpen was a little rusty because of all the rainouts, so it was good to get the win the way we did."
Pensacola's pitching staff has been the key to its first-half success: the Blue Wahoos lead the league in ERA (2.73), WHIP (1.16) and strikeouts (601).
"The last two years, we've had outstanding pitching," Kelly said. "If you pitch and play defense, you have a chance every night because you'll always be in the ballgame, and that's what we've done this year. It's a solid group we have here and it shows how far Cincinnati has come. After running Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis and Jackson Stephens through here last year, we've got another group of budding stars this season."
The staff is headlined by Reds No. 8 prospect Tyler Mahle, who allowed a run on four hits and struck out three over three innings in the Game 2 loss. The 22-year-old right-hander has made 14 starts this year and his ERA has never climbed above 2.00. He pitched a perfect game on April 22 and leads the league with a 0.87 WHIP.
"He's one of the best pitchers I've seen working off of his fastball," Kelly said. "He's got a huge range, going 88-96, and he knows how to pitch to all four quadrants. He's able to change speeds and his slider has developed into a nice putaway pitch, so he's become a four-pitch pitcher and he's totally dominated the Southern League in the first half."
Even though the Blue Wahoos' offense has yet to match their pitching, players like Blandino and Reds No. 4 prospect Aristides Aquino seem poised for big second halves.
"Blandino has been hot the past month and a half and has really carried us with some big RBIs, and Aquino has hit some big home runs and we're beginning to see production from up and down the lineup," Kelly said.
Chattanooga 5, Tennessee 3
The Lookouts scored three runs in the ninth inning to clinch the Southern League North Division first-half title. Twins top prospect Nick Gordon ranks fifth in the league in batting (.313) and OPS (.874), while No. 9 prospect Felix Jorge has led the pitching staff with a 3.00 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 72 innings. Box score.