Division-leading Augusta in for championship fight

Sunday's 10-0 blowout of the Savannah Sand Gnats kept the Augusta GreenJackets in control of the South Atlantic League's Southern Division. The victory was their sixth in a row at home and marked two weeks since they moved atop the division standings.


Entering Monday's game, the GreenJackets were 31/2 games ahead of the Columbus Catfish and Asheville Tourists, but all eight teams in the division remain in the hunt for the second-half title. At 19-21 after last weekend's play, the Kannapolis Intimidators had the worst record but sit only seven games out of first place.

With the division race so tight, the month of August might produce a few key series.

"That's what we want as an organization -- for us to play in games that matter," GreenJackets manager Andy Skeels said. "It helps in developing winning ball players, so even from the development standpoint that's our focus."

Although the GreenJackets are in the driver's seat to win the division, they could fall out of first place and still make the playoffs.

Asheville already owns a playoff bid after winning the first-half championship. If it also takes the second-half title, the second playoff spot would go to the team with the next best overall record.

The GreenJackets entered Monday's play with a four-game lead over the Charleston RiverDogs in the overall standings.

BAD BREAK : The GreenJackets will have to make their final playoff push without a key component of their infield.

Starting shortstop Charlie Culberson , the 51st overall pick in last year's draft, suffered an injury to his glove hand last week.

"He'll miss the rest of the season," Skeels said. "It's unfortunate, but you just have to pick yourself up and keep going."

Culberson was hitting .234 with 11 doubles and 27 RBI, but his biggest presence came with his glove. He was part of an infield that has posted 95 double plays in 111 games this season.

On the other half of that strong middle infield was starting second baseman Nick Noonan .

"We definitely had a lot of chemistry worked up," Noonan said. "We've played well over 100 games together, and you get to know where the other guy's going to be."

Replacing Culberson is shortstop Juan Ciriaco . The 24-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has hits in six of the eight games he's played for the GreenJackets and has not committed an error.

STILL THE BEST : GreenJackets ace Madison Bumgarner has been named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week for the fourth time this season.

He made two starts last week, shutting out Rome and Savannah with a pair of seven-inning gems. He struck out a combined 15 batters in the two outings and didn't have a walk.

HOT STREAK : The overbearing heat has been a factor in recent GreenJackets games.

Sunday evening's contest started with the heat index higher than 100. The temperature is expected to reach triple digits today and Wednesday, according to weather.com.

"It felt like 1,000 degrees to me," outfielder James Simmons said after Sunday's game. "That's too hot."

Nobody has felt the heat like newcomer Dom Duggan . The outfielder was sent to Augusta from Advanced-A San Jose last week, and he said he immediately felt the climate change.

"My last game in San Jose I wore fleece in the ninth inning," he said. "Now this. My jersey's soaked with sweat."

The move was something of a homecoming for Duggan. He grew up near Pittsburgh but went to college at Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.



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