Knowing that an important three-game series with the first-place Rome Braves loomed in the near future, the Augusta GreenJackets hoped to gain ground in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division standings last week.
Instead the team was pushed to the brink of elimination, but it was hardly the GreenJackets’ fault.
The GreenJackets won six out of seven games last week, but Rome didn’t falter under the pressure. The Braves won all but two games during the same stretch, keeping Augusta six games back with seven to play.
If the GreenJackets want a chance at making a return trip to the postseason, they’ll have to win the rest of their games starting tonight in Rome.
“I’m very pleased. The guys are playing hard, and I can’t complain,” Augusta manager Lipso Nava said. “Yes, I would like to win every game possible to make it more interesting, but that’s the game. Now we go into the series that’s either going to make us or break us.”
Though Braves spent much of the first half of the season with the worst record in all of minor league baseball, they have been a consistent obstacle for the GreenJackets all summer. In five series against each other, Rome has won three of them, taking 11 of 16 games played, including a four-game sweep in Rome to start the month.
A Braves win over the GreenJackets tonight would eliminate third-place Augusta from contention, leaving only second-place Asheville in the way of Rome and its first postseason appearance in six years.
LEAGUE AWARD: GreenJackets left-handed starter Edwin Escobar was named the South Atlantic League’s pitcher of the week Monday afternoon.
The 20-year-old Venezuelan threw eight shutout innings Saturday in Augusta’s 1-0 win over the Greensboro Grasshoppers, extending his scoreless innings streak past 17 innings.
Escobar (7-7) ranks sixth in the league with a 3.02 ERA. He became the third GreenJackets pitcher to earn the league’s weekly award. Fellow lefty Adalberto Mejia won the award in June, while right-handed starter Kyle Crick has won it twice this season.
MORE TO COME: Escobar’s award could be the first of many coming to Augusta this week. The end-of-season all-star roster could be released as early as today and will include the top players at each position and the league’s most outstanding pitcher of the year, most outstanding major league prospect and most valuable player.
Three starting pitchers, Escobar, Crick and Clayton Blackburn, have legitimate shots as the most outstanding pitcher of the year award. All three rank in the top six in the league in ERA.
“I think they’ve each accomplished our No. 1 goal, which is to get them better and get them ready for the higher levels,” Nava said. “I think that mission is accomplished. They have a bright future ahead, and I look forward to the future and seeing them wear that San Francisco Giants uniform in the big leagues.”
Crick leads the league with a 2.30 ERA, while Blackburn ranks first with 143 strikeouts – 14 more than any other pitcher in the league.
The three young Giants prospects have grown together this season. Crick and Blackburn are still teenagers, while Escobar turned 20 after the season started.
“We’ve all competed against each other, and we’re all the same age,” Blackburn said. “We’ve done a good job of supporting each other but at the same time competing and even giving each other a hard time. Whoever wins it – me, Escobar or Crick – we’ll all be happy for each other. No bad blood between us. We’re all good friends, and I hope to see one of them win it.”
Former GreenJackets starter Shawn Sanford, now playing at the Advanced-A level, won the league’s most outstanding pitcher of the year award last season.
LAST CHANCE: The GreenJackets return to Lake Olmstead Stadium on Friday for one last homestand to wrap up the season. Saturday’s game against the Charleston RiverDogs will include a postgame fireworks show, while Monday’s game, the last of the season, will feature a special Labor Day start time of 2:05 p.m.