THE FLYING TIGERS (21-16, 2nd-North, 3.0 GB) … Lakeland is returning from a four-game road trip at Tampa in which the Flying Tigers swept the Yankees to climb within three games of the first place Blue Jays. Lakeland has now won four straight and eight of the last 12 games. While the Flying Tigers have batted .254 the last nine games and the starting pitching staff has a 3.76 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 15 walks, the bullpen may be the star with a 2.17 ERA, 29 punch outs and 11 free passes.
THE METS (31-8, 1st-South, 0.0 GB) … St. Lucie is coming off a doubleheader sweep of Bradenton on Wednesday, winning game one 6-3 and game two 4-0. The sweep gives the Mets the best record in all of professional baseball and they are the only team still to still have a single digit in the loss column.. The Mets have won three straight, six of their last seven and 17 of their last 21 games. Wilmer Flores leads the squad with a .321 average (5th in the FSL) and 23 runs batted in and is second with six home runs. Cory Vaughn is tied for the FSL lead with eight dingers and second on the Mets with 20 RBI. The duo has helped the Mets hit 34 homers, six more than any other FSL squad. Cory Mazzoni is 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA while Chase Huchingson is 4-3 with a 2.80 ERA and Angel Cuan is 3-1 on the season with a 2.84 in six starts. Adrian Rosario is second in the league with 10 saves. No surprise that St. Lucie leads the Florida State League with a 2.60 ERA – 54 points lower that any other FSL pitching staff.
PROBABLE STARTERS … (With the Flying Tigers recently losing two of their starting rotation in Jacob Turner, who was promoted to AAA Toledo, and Kevin Eichhorn, who was placed on the DL, the author is taking a pass on probable starters for this series.)
LAST YEAR … The two clubs split their eight games in 2011. Lakeland won games one and four in St. Lucie by a combined 17-8 score while the Mets posted back-to-back shutouts in games two and three. In the rematch in Lakeland, St. Lucie won 6-5 and 8-2 sandwiched around a pair of Flying Tigers wins of 4-3 and 2-1.
INSIDE THE METS ROSTER … St. Lucie pitcher Hamilton Bennett tossed a perfect game for Tennessee Wesleyan College on May 1, 2010 becoming just the 20th player in the NAIA to accomplish the feat … catcher Francisco Pena is the son of former major leaguer Tony Pena while Cory Vaughn’s father is former big-leaguer Greg Vaughn … infielder Robbie Shields was drafted in 2009 out of Lakeland’s Florida Southern College.
HE WAS JUST 17 … Nick Castellanos collected a single and double in the Flying Tigers’ 6-5 win on Wednesday to extend his hit streak to a league-best 17 games. During the streak, the Lakeland third baseman is 29×69 (.420) with four doubles, two triples, a homer, and 12 runs batted in. In his last four games Castellanos is 8×19 (.421). The streak ties Corey Jones’ feat of last season and is the longest for a Flying Tiger since Kody Kaiser had hits in 21 straight games from July 29 to August 14, 2010.
ON TOP LOOKING DOWN … Nick Castellanos maintains his minor-league leading average with a .405 mark on the season – 10 points higher that Jared Goedert of Akron who has a .395 mark. Castellanos hits righthanders better, tagging them for a .425 mark compared to a .357 average against lefties. With runners on base, his average is a lofty .478 on the year. His lead in the FSL is a comfortable 52 points over Andy Ashce of Clearwater who is hitting .353 for the Threshers. Castellanos also leads the league with 60 hits, a .451 on-base percentage, 82 total bases, and a .554 slugging percentage.
CRAZY EIGHT … Luis Castillo enters the series with an eight-game hit streak in which he is 11×33 (.333) with four doubles and three runs.
HAVE A SERIES … Playing in three of the four games at Tampa, Wade Gaynor collected six hits in 11 at bats with two doubles and two triples and had two runs scored and four runs driven in.
INSIDE THE ‘PEN … Tyler Clark has not been scored upon in his last four games and has allowed runs in just two of his nine appearances this season … Matt Crouse has not allowed a run in seven relief appearances while allowing just five hits … Matt Little has surrendered just one run in his last eight appearances and has 15 strikeouts and five walks in those outings … closer Bruce Rondon has saves in seven of his last eight outings and has not allowed a run in his last eight games with 13 strikeouts and two walks … Tyler White picked up his first win of the year with 3.0 shutout innings against Tampa on May 16. He struck out five Yankees and allowed just one hit … Ryan Woolley also picked up his first win on May 15 at Tampa allowing one run in 2.0 innings of relief.
ALL DEPENDS ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT … Dixon Machado is hitless in his last six games and only has three hits since May 5, but has scored a run in 9 of 10 games in that span, including crossing the plate in eight consecutive games from May 5-14.
GOOD TO BE HOME … Tyler Collins got just a double in 16 at bats in the Tampa series, but returns to Joker Marchant Stadium where he has a .393 average compared to his .229 road average. James McCann had two hits at Tampa but has a .333 average in Lakeland and a .197 record away from the friendly confines. Avisail Garcia fared a little better against the Yankees with three hits, but like Collins and McCann, hits far better in home games with a .446 average at Joker Marchant in contrast to his .233 mark in road games.
LUCKY SEVEN … With Wednesday’s victory over the Yankees, Lakeland has now won all seven meetings with Tampa this season, matching the team’s number of wins in the entire 20-game series in 2011.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING … Scoring three runs in the top of the ninth on Wednesday for a 6-5 win at Tampa gave the Flying Tigers their first win in 14 games in which they trailed after eight innings.
ROSTER SHUFFLE … Detroit promoted Jacob Turner to AAA Toledo on Saturday, May 12 with Patrick Cooper added to the roster from West Michigan. On May 15, Kevin Eichhorn was placed on the disabled list.
PLAGMAN POWER … While the former Flying Tiger hasn’t had the season to date he’d like, Tony Plagman put on a show on May 12, knocking out three homers in a 11-6 win. Plagman, who had three homers for the season entering the game, was 4×5 on the night with eight runs batted in.
UP NEXT … Lakeland hits the road to Bradenton for a four-game set starting Monday, May 21 at 10 am in yet another morning game for the Flying Tigers. The remaining three games are 6:30 pm starts.
CLOSING IN ON 1700 … Manager Dave Huppert is in his second season with Lakeland and his 24th season as a minor league manager. Huppert, who entered the 2012 season as the second winningest active minor league manager, brings a 1,693-1,551 record into the St. Lucie series. With seven more wins, Huppert will become the first active minor league manager to reach 1,700 wins. (Tom Kotchman, manager of the Orem club in the Angels’ organization finished the 2011 season with the most wins as a active manager with 1,678, but the Owls season does not begin until June.). The all-time record for wins belongs to Stan Wasiak of the Dodger’s organization, who won 2,497 games.