Though a pair of losses to end the first half of the season sent the Augusta GreenJackets into the All-Star break in a sour mood, manager Lipso Nava said his team has some things to take pride in at the halfway point.
“We should take the best of what we learned from the first half and take it to the second half,” he said. “We need to learn from our mistakes in the first half and improve in every area that we’re lacking in.”
The GreenJackets finished with a 32-37 record, 14½ games out first and in sixth place in the seven-team South Atlantic League Southern Division.
The team’s struggles offensively often negated quality pitching efforts. The GreenJackets rank last in the league in doubles (97) and home runs (25), with a league-worst slugging percentage of .318. The team’s total bases (710) and walks (212) are last in the division.
Nava said those numbers will have to improve in order to reach the playoffs for the second year in a row.
“I think the potential is there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having the right attitude and maintaining adjustments and learning how to play the game in a better way.”
Nava has seen signs of improvement from his hitters. The team has posted a .274 batting average this month, fourth-best in the 14-team league.
GROWING: After winning just one series in all of May, the GreenJackets wrapped up the first half by winning their last four series.
Augusta’s pitching allowed just one run in four of the past eight games. The strong finish rounded out a first half that saw the pitching staff lead the league in strikeouts and post the third-best ERA at 3.83.
The GreenJackets were the only team to average more than one strikeout per inning pitched.
YOUNG GUNS: The team’s starting rotation was led by 19-year-old prospect Clayton Blackburn, the only starter to post a winning record in the first half at 3-2 with a 2.88 ERA. He led the team with 67 strikeouts – two more than starter Kyle Crick – and walked just 12 batters in 59 innings.
Nava said Blackburn will get the start in the first game back from All-Star break Thursday in Savannah. Chris Marlowe will start Friday, with Crick and left-hander Edwin Escobar scheduled to go Saturday and Sunday.
When the team returns to Augusta for a nine-game homestand starting Monday, Adalberto Mejia, the newest member of the starting rotation, is expected to get the start.
Nava said a sixth starter will most likely be added to the rotation for Tuesday’s game, replacing the spot vacated by right-hander Joseph Biagini, who was sent to short-season Salem-Keizer on Sunday.
ALL-STAR: Reliever Cody Hall will be Augusta’s lone representative at the All-Star Game tonight in Charleston, S.C.
The right-hander led the league with 10 saves before missing almost three weeks with a strained oblique. He returned to action last week and made three one-inning appearances. All were shutouts, but none were save opportunities.
TICKETS PUNCHED: When the second half begins, the Asheville Tourists and Greensboro Grasshoppers will take comfort in the fact that they’ve already earned their spot in the postseason.
The Tourists (47-23) finished with the league’s best record in the first half and won the Southern Division title by 4½ games over Savannah. Greensboro (46-24) led by just a game and a half with two games to play but won out to claim the Northern Division title over the Hagerstown Suns.