The Blue Rocks opened up the season on the road for the first time since 2015 with a week-long road trip to Potomac and Salem. Wilmington started the season with a 5-3 win on Opening Day breaking a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning when Chris DeVito ripped a two-out, go-ahead RBI single to score Khalil Lee to make it a 4-3 game before the Rocks added an insurance run in the ninth inning to seal the win. However, the Blue Rocks were unable to get the offense going through the first week of the season and dropped six of their next nine games to go 4-6 through their first ten games.
The Rocks offense heated up during a four-game series at Frederick from April 19-22 when they took three out of four against the Keys and outscored Frederick 31-20. In the series opener, the Blue Rocks scored the most runs of the season so far in a 15-4 triumph. Wilmington's offense erupted and scored all 15 runs through the first four innings of the game. Chase Vallot smacked a grand slam and Rudy Martin fell a home run shy of the cycle as both drove in five runs each in the rout.
Two games later, the Blue Rocks produced their largest comeback of the season on April 21. Trailing by five runs after the third inning, the Blue Rocks scored eight runs in the final six innings to take a thrilling 12-10 victory. Kort Peterson smacked two home runs in the game for his first-career, two homer game and also drove in a career-high five runs in the win. On April 26, the Blue Rocks had fan-favorite Brandon Downes back on the roster and the outfielder wasted no time making his presence felt. In his second at-bat of the game, he homered to help lead the Rocks to a 5-0 win over Potomac.
Wilmington closed out the final week of the first month of the season winning three of their final seven games to post an 11-12 record. As a team, the Blue Crew drew 104 walks which led the Carolina League and their remarkable 37 stolen bases in 47 attempts ranked second in the circuit, thanks to five different players stealing multiple bases including Martin who stole an impressive 14 bags in 22 games. Individually, D.J. Burt led the offense and hit .311 (14-for-45) with eight runs scored and stole six bases. Reliever Matthew Wynne impressed in his first month as a Blue Rock and posted sterling 0.84 ERA in seven relief appearances and picked up a save. He allowed just one earned run in 10.2 innings of work.
Just like to start the 2018 season, the Rocks started the second month of the campaign against the Potomac Nationals. The first game of May was a heartbreaking 6-5 loss. Wilmington rallied for five unanswered runs including two in the final inning on a Lee two-run triple to make it 6-5 before the rally fell short. The Rocks bounced back nicely with a 12-7 victory in the middle game of the series and pounded out a season-high 16 hits. Vallot clubbed a pair of homes runs while Emmanuel Rivera collected four hits in the win.
The Rocks wound up dropping the series finale which started a string of four straight series losses to put the Rocks at 15-21 on the season. The Rocks would flip the script when they welcomed the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to town for a three-game series. After the first game was rained out, the Blue Rocks played their first doubleheader on May 16. Wilmington took the first game by the score of 3-1, thanks to a strong performance by starting pitcher Jace Vines . The right-handed hurler tossed all seven innings in the opening game of the twin bill and allowed just one run on five hits. After the Rocks dropped the nightcap to the Pelicans, the Blue Rocks earned the series win with a thrilling 3-1 rubber match win.
Wilmington broke a 1-1 tie in odd fashion when Nick Heath hit a blooper down the left field line that landed in between Pelicans' shortstop Aramis Ademan and left fielder Kevonte Mitchell who both collided. The ball rolled down the line scoring Chris DeVito and Heath for the go-ahead, inside-the-park home run. It was the first inside-the-park homer for a Blue Rock since Ryan O'Hearn hit two in the 2016 season.
The Rocks would go on to lose the next four games before snapping the skid with a wild 7-4 victory at Potomac on May 22. Down to their final out, the Blue Rocks rallied in the top of the ninth inning. Peterson drew a bases loaded walk to tie the game at 4-4 before DeVito was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to put the Rocks ahead, 5-4. A wild pitch followed to allow Lee to score before Gabriel Cancel singled home another run to help secure the comeback victory.
The tough month of May for the Rocks continued however as the team dropped six of their last nine games of the month to go 10-20 during the month and were 21-32 through the first 53 games of the season. Royals' top prospect Khalil Lee hit .284 during the month and was riding a modest eight-game on-base streak which would extend through the month of June. The 19-year-old, also drove in 14 runs, walked 20 times and had an impressive .429 on-base percentage. Peterson became one of the most consistent hitters in the lineup and in the league, hitting to the tune of .313 with 11 extra-base hits during the month, to help him be amongst the league leaders in batting average. On the mound, closer Bryan Brickhouse shined and went 1-0 with an impressive 0.87 ERA in eight appearances and earned four saves in as many chances. Opponents hit just .061 against him.
As the weather started to heat up, so did the Blue Rocks' offense. After a 4-2 setback in the series opener at Salem to start the third month of the campaign, the Blue Crew started their longest winning streak of the season the following night. After trailing 2-0, the Blue Rocks tied the game in the third and fifth innings before Salem went up by three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to make it a three-run Wilmington deficit. The Blue Crew rallied by manufacturing runs and tied the game on a wild pitch to make it a 5-5 score. In the ninth, Peterson smashed a go-ahead, two-run homer to give the Rocks the 7-5 lead and eventual victory.
The good times kept rolling for the Blue Rocks as they held off the Red Sox in the series finale in a 5-4 win thanks to catcher Meibrys Viloria who drove in four runs, including the game-winning run in the top of the eighth inning. The Rocks returned home on June 5 and spoiled the Lynhcburg Hillcats chances of clinching a postseason berth with a four-game sweep.
The Rocks used early offense in the 9-2 series opener as Lee paced the offense with a home run and drove in three. On June 6, the Rocks played a doubleheader and took both games to earn their first twin bill sweep of the season. Both games were decided with late offense by Wilmington. In the first contest, the Rocks broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with three runs, highlighted by Peterson's two-run homer over the center field wall to help push the Blue Rocks to their fourth straight win. In the night cap, the rallying Rocks did it again. Down 5-3 in the fifth inning and with two outs, the Rocks loaded the bases before Viloria lined a game-tying single to left field to plate the tying runs. In the bottom of the sixth, again with two outs, the Rocks pulled away on a Cancel RBI single to score the go-ahead run.
In the series finale, it was the right arm of Anthony Bender who set the tone for the Blue Rocks and tossed seven strong innings and allowed just two earned runs. Lee belted a three-run home run for his fourth homer of the season to help the Rocks extend the win streak to six games with a 7-4 series sweeping win. It was the first series sweep of the season for the Blue Crew and the first, four-game series sweep since June 15-18, 2017.
Wilmington's winning streak would come to an end the following night in a tough 3-2 loss to Frederick before bouncing back with a convincing 10-6 win over the Keys on June 9. The Blue Rocks pounded out 15 hits in the slugfest as both teams combined for 29 total hits. Wilmington dropped its final home game of the first half in a rain-shortened 2-1 loss to the Keys.
The Rocks closed out the first half with a seven-game road trip to face Southern Division foes in the Down East Wood Ducks and Winston-Salem Dash. After the first game was rained out, the Blue Rocks and Wood Ducks played a doubleheader on June 12 in which the Rocks dropped both games. In the second game of the doubleheader, Lee had his team-high 18-game on-base streak come to an end. During the stretch, he hit .350 and had a .473 on-base percentage during that stretch. The streak is also tied for the seventh-longest on-base streak in the Carolina League this season. Wilmington salvaged the series the following day by outlasting Down East in a pitching duel. Again it was Bender who turned in another quality start and fired seven strong innings and the combination of relievers Cristian Castillo and Brickhouse bridged the final two innings to preserve the win.
The Blue Rocks headed to Winston-Salem and fell in the first two games of the series before taking the final two games. The Rocks earned a 2-1 victory on June 16 thanks to the combination of Castillo, Carter Hope , and Brickhouse who earned his 12th save of the season. Wilmington closed out the half in dominant fashion and thumped the Dash 10-1 on Father's Day. Seven different Blue Rocks picked up a hit and six different hitters drove in a run. Pitching again was a key to Wilmington's success as Daniel Tillo and Vines combined for 10 strikeouts which was the first 10-strikeout game put together by the Blue Rocks' staff this season.
Wilmington also had four players named Carolina League Northern Division All-Stars by the league office prior to the All-Star Break. Brickhouse, Burt, Lee and Peterson represented the Blue Rocks during the All-Star Classic which was hosted by the Carolina Mudcats at Five County Stadium.
To close out the first half, Brickhouse led the league with his 12 saves and went 1-0 with a 2.01 ERA and held opponents to a remarkable .083 batting average. He struck out 31 batters in 22.1 innings of work. Burt finished second in the Carolina League with 18 stolen bases to end the half and fifth in on-base percentage (.385). The second-year Blue Rock had his average in the top-ten for the majority of the first 70 games of the season.
One of the youngest players to be in the annual exhibition, Lee has shown why he is rated the Royals' top prospect. He has showcased his tools and finished the first half leading the Carolina League in walks (47) and ranked sixth in all of MiLB. He also posted a .399 on-base percentage which was second-best in the league. Peterson has been one of the best hitters in the league since the beginning of May and closed out the first half with a .292 batting average which ranked ninth in the league to go along with a team-leading eight home runs and second on the team with 33 RBI. Wilmington went 5-3 through the first eight games of the second half before the calendar flipped to July.
The month of July featured some of the most entertaining games for the Blue Rocks starting on July 5 when they rallied from a three-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning to stun the Hillcats, 7-6. Vance Vizcaino hit an RBI single to score Angelo Castellano to pull the rocks with a pair of runs. Blake Perkins , who joined the team during the Carolina League All-Star break after being part of the trade between the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals, smacked a triple to plate Vizcaino and make it a 6-5 contest. Gabriel Cancel put the Rocks on top with a two-run double to culminate the rally before Wilmington held off Lynchburg in the bottom of the inning to earn the win.
Two days later, the Blue Rocks and Hillcats were in another wild contest that lasted 13 innings with Wilmington overcoming four blown leads to hold on to a 9-7 victory. Both teams exchanged single scores in both the 10th and 11th innings and then a pair in the 12th before the Blue Rocks scored two more in the decisive frame thanks to a two-out, two-run double by Burt and Tyler Zuber came in to close the game out.
On July 11 at Frederick, the Blue Rocks again held on to earn the victory in a back-and-forth game to beat the Keys by the score of 12-11 in 12 innings. The two teams combined to score 11 runs in extras, including a 10th inning that saw each team plate three runs to keep the game going. After both the Blue Rocks and Keys scored a pair of runs in the 11th, Cancel broke the stalemate with a clutch, two-out single to score Travis Jones to give the Rocks the 12-11 lead and eventual victory.
Two days later, the Blue Rocks routed the Salem Red Sox and put up the most runs in a single game this season in a 16-1 triumph that included seven different Blue Rocks collecting multiple hits with Nick Heath leading the way with a four-hit game. Thanks to some of those exciting victories, the Blue Rocks went 7-5 through the first two weeks of July. After winning four of their next six games to improve to 16-12 in the second half, the final game of that stretch was a 12-11 extra-inning victory over Lynchburg which was also the start of the Blue Rocks' longest winning streak of the season. From July 20 through the first game of a doubleheader at Buies Creek on July 28, the Rocks strung together eight straight victories. It was the longest winning streak for Wilmington since 2009 when the Blue Crew won a franchise-best 12 straight games. During the eight-game winning streak, the Blue Rocks outscored their opponents 57-32 and had an overall record of 54-51, the first time Wilmington was three games over .500.
Due to their surge, the Blue Rocks found themselves atop the Northern Division during the last two weeks of July and heading into August. Both Burt and Viloria turned in a fantastic month of July at the plate. Burt hit .323 with a pair of home runs, 18 RBI and scored 21 runs in 25 games while Viloria hit .360 (31-for-86) with two homers, 12 RBI and had an on-base percentage of .421. On the mound, Nolan Watson , who joined Wilmington from Low-A Lexington earlier in the month, went on to win four consecutive starts to post a 4-1 record with a 3.45 ERA. Garabito also was strong on the mound for Wilmington and went 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA in five starts, tossed a complete game and struck out 23 batters while only allowed four walks and opponents hit just .190 against him.
Playing their best baseball of the season, the Blue Rocks opened the final full month of the season looking to keep the momentum going. However, it wasn't meant to be as Wilmington cooled off to start the month and went 5-5 through the first 10 games. Still atop the Northern Division, the Blue Rocks would end up in a tailspin, dropping 10 consecutive games from August 12-24. During the stretch, the Rocks lost eight of the games by three runs or less, including a gut-wrenching series at Winston-Salem in which the Blue Crew lost three of the four games by just one run. It was followed by being swept by the Down East Wood Ducks at home in a three-game series.
Because of the skid, the Blue Rocks went from leading the division to being seven games out of first. The Blue Rocks ended the streak with an 8-2 win over Salem on August 24. Ofreidy Gomez set the tone early in the game and went on to toss one of his best games of the season. The righty matched a career-high with seven innings pitched and allowed just one run to get Wilmington back in the win column. The resilient Rocks didn't give up however and started to climb back to the top of the division. The Blue Rocks immediately followed the losing streak with four consecutive wins to pull within four games of first place.
The Blue Rocks visited Lynchburg from August 27-30 to begin a crucial series with playoff implications. The Rocks took three out of four games to pull within three games of the Hillcats with seven to play. Wilmington won two of the games despite going a combined 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position before dominating the Hillcats in the series finale 5-0. Garabito ended his strong campaign with a brilliant performance on the mound and tossed 6.1 scoreless innings, allowed four hits, walked two and struck out seven while Rudy Martin drove in three runs.
The Blue Crew returned to the Riverfront to try and sneak their way into the playoffs with a five-game, three-day series against the First Half Northern Division Champion Potomac Nationals. Wilmington entered the series three games behind Lynchburg with five games to play. The Rocks fell in the series opener by a score of 8-1. In that contest, Wilmington, Delaware native and product of the University of Delaware, Kyle Hinton made his Advanced-A debut in front of his hometown. A 16th-round pick by the Royals this season, the righty reliever worked two scoreless innings. Wilmington bounced back in the second game of the doubleheader with an 8-3 win. However, the Hillcats split a twin bill in Salem to eliminate Wilmington from postseason contention.
The two Northern Division foes split another doubleheader on September 2. Right-hander Andres Sotillet suffered the tough-luck loss in the first game despite turning in a complete game and allowed just one run. In the second game, another 2018 draft pick by the Royals in southpaw Josh Dye earned his first-career, Advanced-A win after he worked five innings and allowed just one run in a 3-2 victory. In the season finale on Labor Day, the Blue Rocks almost pulled off a tenth inning rally, but ultimately fell short, 5-4. Chase Vallot drove in a run on a single before Angelo Castellano lifted a sacrifice fly to make it one-run ballgame before a fly out left the bases loaded and ended the game and season for Wilmington.
Garabito earned the ERA title in the Carolina League after posting a 3.16 ERA over 26 starts. The right-hander becomes the first Blue Rock to lead the league in earned run average since 2014 when Glenn Sparkman led the circuit with a 1.56 ERA. Garabito also became the fourth Blue Rocks' pitcher to finish in the top-five in ERA in the Carolina League in the last five years. In 142.1 innings of work, he allowed just 50 earned runs during that span and held opponents to a .226 batting average against.
He put together 13 quality starts and had a strong second half of the season. After going 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA through his first 13 starts at the Advanced-A level, Garabito went an impressive 6-1 with a 2.15 ERA in the same amount of outings in the second half of the campaign. Along with leading the league in ERA, Garabito also finished in the top-five in the CL in starts (T-1st, 26), batting average against (2nd, .226), innings pitched (3rd, 142.1) and strikeouts (5th, 116). Garabito also paced all Royals' farmhands in ERA while finishing third in strikeouts.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks also had a handful of players rank amongst the league leaders in multiple categories. Burt and Rivera each finished tied for eighth in the CL in batting average.(.280) Three different Blue Rocks finished top-five in stolen bases. (Burt, 1st, 32, Heath, Martin and Perkins T-2nd, 29). Cancel finished tied for first in the league with 31 doubles and fourth in RBI with 73. Perkins also led the league in walks (92) and runs scored (87).
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.