Turnaround defines team 's play in first half

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As bad as the season started for the Augusta GreenJackets, the past month has made up for it.

The GreenJackets were in last place in the South Atlantic League Southern Division with a 12-22 record May 15. The team was blown out 11-2 at Greenville the night before thanks to three errors and ineffective pitching. It marked the team's eighth loss in 11 games.

But since that low point, the GreenJackets have flipped the win/loss column. They went from 12-22 in the first 34 games of the season to 23-12 in the final 35 of the first half. The last win, Sunday's 6-4 victory over Rome, put Augusta above .500 for the first time this season.

Name a statistic, and the GreenJackets have improved in the past month and a half. The team went from averaging 4.1 runs per game to 5.6. The pitching staff's ERA dropped from 4.06 through the first 35 games to 2.90 over the last 34.

"There's nothing different from earlier this year," manager Dave Machemer said. "It's just that the work is paying off. We're out here every day working hard, and as a manager that's all I can ask."

GreenJackets designated hitter Andy D'Alessio , who was nursing an injured wrist when he joined the team May 20, has hit .316 since coming from Double-A Connecticut, including a .417 tear over the last 10 games.

"We're getting more confident as a team," D'Alessio said. "I don't know about the idea of hitting being contagious, but when one guy has success, the others seem to understand why he's having that success. That's how they catch on."

The slate gets wiped clean as the league starts the second half Thursday. The GreenJackets went from worst to fourth over the past five weeks. Will that momentum take them to the top of the standings and their fourth postseason bid in a row?

"You don't know how it's going to go," Machemer said. "But I like that way we're playing right now, I'll say that."

NORTHERN INVASION : Part of Machemer's hesitation to predict success comes in the fact that the second half of the GreenJackets' season includes opponents from the Northern Division.

The GreenJackets faced nothing but Southern Division teams in the first half. Neither division is considered stronger than the other year after year, but Machemer said new opponents bring uncertainty.

"I just don't know how we'll measure up against the other division," he said. "We just haven't seen them yet."

The GreenJackets will face Northern Division opponents 28 times in the second half, including 16 consecutive games July 13-29.

FINAL STANDINGS : The Greenville Drive (39-29) won their first South Atlantic League title by taking the first-half championship.

The Lakewood BlueClaws (42-26) took the Northern Division's top spot.

Both teams earned a spot in the SAL playoffs at the end of the season and will face the second-half winners from their respective divisions in the first round of postseason play in September.

ALL-STARS : The 50th SAL All-Star Game will take place tonight at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va.

Rome's Zeke Spruill (7-3) has been named the starting pitcher for the Southern Division, while the Northern Division likely will counter with Hagerstown's Marco Frias (4-2).

Juan Perez , who has played both the infield and outfield this season, will represent the GreenJackets, along with trainer L.J. Petra . Perez also will participate in the home run derby, which will take place before the game begins.

HOT STUFF : The heat index on the field at Lake Olmstead Stadium hit triple digits several times during the GreenJackets' recent homestand. The hottest games came Wednesday and Sunday, when the team played day games fully exposed to the sun.

"It was unbelievable," GreenJackets reliever Trey Webb said. "You get finished and get out of the shower and you're still sweating."

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


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