Keeping pace in the race

Missions down OKC, 4-2, behind Wilkerson, Austin

(Reynaldo Holguin )

By Jerry Briggs / San Antonio Missions | August 24, 2019 4:08 AM

A few hours before Rick Sweet's Missions took the field Friday night to open their final homestand of the season against the Oklahoma City Dodgers, a clubhouse visitor hit the veteran manager with a tricky math question.

"How many of the remaining 11 regular-season games do you feel like you need to win in order over-take the Round Rock Express, to make the Pacific Coast League playoffs?" he was asked.

"Eleven," Sweet said, smiling.

"Really?" the visitor deadpanned

"I tell you what, this series right here is a big three-game series for us," Sweet said. "Because (the Express) have four games (this weekend), while we're playing three. So, I think the next three days will set us up as to how much we need to do (in) our next four (at Round Rock)."

As it turned out, the Missions played every bit as big as Sweet hoped they would.  

They turned back the Oklahoma City Dodgers 4-2 at Wolff Stadium behind a strong, Aaron Wilkerson-led pitching effort and a two-run homer by Tyler Austin.

Playing the opener of the three-game series on a windy night and in front of a sellout crowd of 6,994, the Missions kept pace with the Express, who also won at home, 3-2, over the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

As a result, the Express maintained a 1 and 1/2-game game lead on the Missions in the PCL's American Southern Division with 10 days left in the regular season.

With a key four-game series between the Express and the Missions starting Monday in Round Rock, neither team can afford to stumble in the next few days.

In essence, Saturday could be a swing day in the race, with the Express playing a doubleheader against the Baby Cakes, and the Missions hoping to nail down another victory against the Dodgers.

"I think, right now, you look at it day to day, game to game," Sweet said. "Tomorrow is a very important game for us, like today was.

"I think Round Rock will go out and play a doubleheader, so that's even more of an emphasis, to make sure we win our game.

"I've been lucky. Most of the time in my career we've been in the hunt, to where all you do is focus on your team."

Wilkerson said he's not focusing too much on the race for the division title.

"You know, I try not to pay attention to the standings too much," he said. "We come out here and do our jobs. We put runs across the board … to win the game. The standings will take care of themselves.

"We have a big series coming up against Round Rock after OKC. I think that series will decide who's going (to the playoffs) and who's not. As long as we can keep it in grasp and play like we've played all year, we'll be fine."

Wilkerson (8-2) pitched five innings, yielding only two singles. He walked two and struck out five in his first scoreless performance with the Missions since June 5.

"I was just aggressive, attacking hitters," Wilkerson said. "I came out in the first inning and showed what I was going to do. The wind blowing in from center field helped out a lot. So, I tried to pitch to the elements a little bit."

Austin didn't let the elements affect his production on an at-bat in the third inning, when he pulled a pitch from OKC starter Daniel Corcino high over the left field wall, where it bounced on top of the berm for a two-run homer and a 3-0 lead.

It was his second homer in eight games since he was picked up off waivers from the San Francisco Giants. Austin, a 27-year-old veteran of 192 major league games, is hitting .393 on 11 of 28 at the plate since he was activated on Aug. 16.

PCL standings

American Southern -- Round Rock 77-52, San Antonio 76-54, New Orleans 68-59, Oklahoma City 59-70.

American Northern - Iowa 69-61, Memphis 63-67, Nashville 60-68, Omaha 55-74.

Note: Teams play a 140-game schedule through Sept. 2. The winners of the American Southern and American Northern divisions will meet in the first round of the playoffs. Another series will match winners in the Pacific Southern against the Pacific Northern divisions. Winners of the two divisional series will advance to the PCL title series. Both are best of five.

Freitas 'feeling a lot better'

Missions manager Rick Sweet said he thinks injured team batting leader David Freitas should be ready to return during the Round Rock series next week.

Freitas hasn't played since Sunday and has sat out the past five games with a rib injury.

"He had a rib that got out of whack, and it created some irritation in his swing," Sweet said.   "He's feeling a lot better every day."

Slugger Tyler Saladino is sidelined by an injury that affects the back of his left shoulder, Sweet said.

Sweet said he isn't sure whether Saladino can return by the end of the regular season.

"I think we'll know more in the next couple of days," Sweet said. "It's a good question. It's a question I have asked. He's doing better. He's feeling better. But he's been dealing with this for two months. It's not something that just happened."

Winning at home

The Missions improved to 47-21 at Wolff Stadium for the best home record in the PCL and in all of Triple-A.

The 47 wins are tied for the third most at home in San Antonio since 1988. The record since then is 55 home wins in the 2011 Texas League championship season. The 1997 TL title team won 48 games at home. The Missions also won 47 at home in 1990.

Taylor on a tear

Tyrone Taylor is batting .339 since July 23. He went 2 for 3 on Friday to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. He's improved his average to .265 for the season.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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