When the Augusta GreenJackets left town last week, they did so suffering the shame of a three-game series sweep at the hands of first-place Savannah. Manager Lipso Nava, visibly frustrated after being outscored 18-3 in the series, called a closed-door meeting in the clubhouse after the last game and later could only muster a sliver of hope for his struggling ball club.
"We have to wipe this one away, go to Charleston and Asheville and try to play at .500," he said. "We have to try to make the best of it."
The GreenJackets took Nava's words to heart and blew away his expectations by winning six of seven games on the road. They'll begin a seven-game homestand tonight tied for second in the South Atlantic League's Southern Division and enjoying a much more positive outlook.
"I feel like they got the speech," Nava said. "It's possible for this team to perform better than they were playing. They just needed to do it together. I felt some new chemistry on this road trip, a better atmosphere."
The GreenJackets took three of four from the Charleston RiverDogs before sweeping the Asheville Tourists in a three-game series. After averaging fewer than two runs per game in the previous homestand, Augusta managed more than 71 runs per game on the road trip, including a 14-run performance Saturday night.
SLUGGING : When the South Atlantic League releases its weekly awards today, GreenJackets third baseman Adam Duvall is a frontrunner for player of the week. The all-star slugger hit .429 with 10 RBI in seven games last week. Half of his 12 hits went for extra bases, including a game-winning, two-out grand slam in the ninth in the first game of the Asheville series.
Nava said the all-star third baseman, who leads the league with 70 RBI, was the spark that drove the team to its road trip success.
"I've said before, hitting is contagious," Nava said. "Duvall started it, and (Bobby) Haney, (Josh) Mazzola and (Ryan) Lollis followed that example."
Lollis has hit safely in 12 of 13 games and owns a team-leading .313 batting average since he arrived in Augusta on the last day of May. Haney got two hits in each of his three starts in the Asheville series, and Mazzola homered twice on the road.
TALL ORDER : Carrying the momentum into tonight's series opener won't be easy. The GreenJackets will spend the seven-game homestand playing host to the two teams with the most wins in the South Atlantic League. The Hagerstown Suns will arrive in town today with a four-game winning streak on the line and a one-game lead over Hickory for first place in the Northern Division's second half standings.
Savannah, which plays three games at Lake Olmstead Stadium starting Saturday, owns a first-half Southern Division title, the best overall record in the league and a four-game lead in the Southern Division's second-half standings.
Nava said his team's successful road trip has put it in a better position to face a pair of quality opponents. The GreenJackets have yet to face Hagerstown this season, but Savannah has won 12 of 14 meetings with Augusta.
"Our confidence level is way up there," he said. "We've got to play fundamental baseball and stay away from walking guys, but if we play like we're able to play and like we have been playing I think we have a good chance to come out of this with a positive record."
The pitching staffs of Savannah and Hagerstown rank first and second in the league in team ERA at 3.11 and 3.57, respectively.
GETTING THE NOD : Starting pitcher Taylor Rogers will take the mound tonight in the series opener. The right-hander ranks fourth in the league with a 2.59 ERA and hasn't allowed more than one earned run in five of his last six starts.