Monday, September 1, 2014

A Look Back At The 2014 Flying Tigers Season

IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES (ALMOST). IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES ... If there ever was a season of two halves, 2014 was it for the Flying Tigers. On April 18, Lakeland edged Clearwater 9-8 in 13 innings to climb into second place. The team would stay there the rest of the first half and made a run at Dunedin in late May and early June, winning a season-best eight games in a row. The second half was something entirely different. After going 3-4 to start the first week, the club dropped ten in a row to fall well into sixth place. The Flying Tigers never recovered and remained in the cellar the rest of second finishing 22.0 games out of first place.

THE RECORD ... The Flying Tigers posted the league’s second-best record in the first half, finishing 42-25 and 3.0 games out of first place. The 42 victories was the most in the first half for a Lakeland team since the 2005 team went 45-22 en route to the first half crown that season. The disastrous second half saw the Flying Tigers go 20-50 for the worst half season record in franchise history. Overall, the club finished with a 62-75 record, which was the poorest record since the 2007 club went 53-87. Along the way, the Flying Tigers won the franchise’s 4,000th game giving Lakeland an all-time record of 4,007-4,256 for a .485 winning percentage.

ATTENDANCE RECORD ... For the second time in the last five seasons, Lakeland set an all-time season attendance record of 64,396, eclipsing the old mark of 64,010 set in 2010. The Flying Tigers have drawn 60,000 or more fans in four of the last five seasons, falling short of that mark in 2012 by just 411 fans. The Florida State League drew 1.2 millions fans in 2014. Lakeland had two of the top five largest crowds in the last 10 seasons this year as 5,106 came to Bright House Networks Night on May 16 game and 5,062 came out for the Fourth of July game. Nineteen times, Lakeland drew crowds of 1,000 or more. The Flying Tigers welcomed their two millionth fan during the season and now sport an all-time attendance mark of 2,045,528 fans. 

CALL TO ARMS ... While the Lakeland defense was pretty much set for the year with just 19 players taking the field, the pitching mound was a different matter. A record 33 pitchers took the hill for Lakeland in 2014, including first baseman James Robbins who made a pair of relief appearances. Calvin Drummond made the most appearances with 35 while Edgar De La Rosa and Yorfrank Lopez each started a team-high 26 games. De La Rosa and Josh Turley tied for the team lead, each with seven wins. The seven wins is the fewest for a team leader since Corey Hamman and Lee Rodney each won six games in 2003. Angel Nesbitt finished second in the Florida State League with 14 saves despite playing just half a season for the Flying Tigers. De La Rosa led the staff with 91 strikeouts and 139.0 innings pitched while Lopez was second with 86 K’s and 134.0 innings. Flying Tigers pitchers combined for a 3.70 ERA which was seventh in the league this season. 

HURLERS IN THE FSL ... In addition to Angel Nesbitt finishing second in the Florida State League with 14 saves, a few other Lakeland pitchers dot the league rankings. Edgar De La Rosa finished sixth with a 3.30 ERA and fourth with a 2.30 opponents average. Tanner Bailey tied with three others with two complete games to lead the FSL. 

AT THE PLATE ... Lakeland finished with a .249 team batting average, second lowest in the league and lowest for a Flying Tigers team since the 2009 squad batted .248 on the year. The squad did belt 77 home runs, eighth most in franchise history and had four players reach double digits in home runs (James Robbins - 17, Austin Green - 15, Connor Harrell - 14, and Jeff McVaney - 11) marking the first time since 2009 that has happened. Robbins’ 17 round-trippers is the eighth most all-time for Lakeland and is the most since Tony Plagman clubbed 18 in 2011. Harold Castro racked up a .299 batting average in 57 games, but Jeff McVaney topped the club with a .273 mark for those with over 400 at bats. Lakeland stole just 77 bases this past season, the ninth fewest for any Lakeland club. The Flying Tigers struck out 1,080 times, fourth most in team history.

LAKELAND OFFENSE IN THE FSL ... Jeff McVaney ranked in several league categories. He was one of five to play in the most games (132) of any league player. McVaney also ranked third with 46 extra base hits and 209 total bases, fourth with 135 hits, and fifth with 74 RBI. James Robbins hit the fourth most home runs (17) of any league player. Connor Harrell was fifth with 205 total bases. 

FLASHING THE LEATHER ... Lakeland finished tied for the FSL defensive lead with a Brevard County, each having a .978 fielding percentage. Lakeland’s 112 errors was second fewest only to the Manatees’ 109 miscues. Connor Harrell topped all Florida State League outfielders with a .997 fielding mark, committing just one error in 306 total chances, and led outfielders with 306 total chances and 296 putouts.  Jeff McVaney tied with 129 games played in the outfield with Tyrone Taylor of Brevard County. James Robbins led all league first basemen with 121 games, 1154 total chances, 1077 putouts, and 70 assists. Austin Green threw out 33.7 percent of would-be base stealers, the third best percentage in the league.

ALL-STARS ... Lakeland had four players selected to the FSL midseason All-Star squad in starting pitchers Kevin Eichhorn, Jake Thompson, Josh Turley, reliever Angel Nesbitt, and catcher Austin Green. Nesbitt was the lone Lakeland representative on the league’s post-season All-Star team.

ALIVE AT FIVE ... Twice this season, Curt Powell collected five hits in a game. He went 5x8 on May 23 against Charlotte in the 19-inning game and shortly thereafter went 5x5 against Fort Myers on June 4.

FSL HONORS ... Three Flying Tigers earned FSL Pitcher of the Week honors while one was named the FSL Player of the Week. Hurlers Edgar De La Rosa (Apr. 28-May 5), Alex Burgos (May 19-26) and Josh Turley (June 30-July 7) joined catcher Austin Green (July 29-Aug. 3).

THIS AIN’T THE 70s ... Several players went streaking this season topped by Harold Castro’s 18-game hitting streak from July 23-Aug. 14 in which he went 28x72 for a .3890 average. Connor Harrell and Chad Wright each had 14 games streaks during the season while Curt Powell connected for hits in 11 straight games. Lance Durham was also in double figures, putting together a 10-game streak. 

WINNING LATE ... Lakeland had 14 wins in their last at bat in the first half of the season, including five walk-off wins, but could only pull out one last at bat win in the second half. The Flying Tigers had traditional walk-off wins as Lance Durham and Curt Powell had game-winning singles and Austin Green hit walk-off three run homer. The more unconventional walk-offs came as Tyler Hanover tripled in a tie game and then scampered home on a throwing error on the play for the winning tally. Powell also had perhaps one of the most dramatic, diving into first base to beat a tag with two outs as the winning run scored. 

LONG GONE ... Lakeland battled Charlotte for 19 innings on May 23 before falling 5-3 in the 19th. It was the longest game in the Florida State League this season and was Lakeland’s longest game since beating Daytona 3-2 in a 20-inning contest on June 8, 2008. 

Jeff McVaney is all over the Lakeland record book: Games Played (132, T8th); Doubles (29, T8th); Career Marks: At Bats (967, 10th); Hits (254, T-8th); Doubles (51, T-4th); and Triples (12, T4th); RBI (124, 8th). McVaney is just the second Lakeland player to lead the team in hits in back-to-back seasons joining Jim Walewander who did so in 1984 and 1985. He is also just the third player to lead the club in steals in consecutive seasons, joining Rudy Pemberton (1991 and 1992) and Walewander (1984 and 1985).  
• Dixon Machado – Career: Games Played (287, 7th); At Bats (1,053, 6th); Runs (151, 2nd); Doubles: (48, 5th); Triples (8, T-8th); Walks (9th)
James Robbins – Doubles (27, T-10th); Home Runs (17, T-8th); Career: Doubles (56, 3nd); Home Runs (28, T-7th)
Austin Green – Home Runs (15, T-10)
Connor Harrell – Games Played (131, T-9th)
Alex Burgos – Career: Wins: (13, T-9th); Appearances (80, T-7th); Innings Pitched (248.0, T-8th); Strikeouts (184, 9th)
Edgar De La Rosa – Games Started (26, T-4th)
Kevin Eichhorn – Career: Games Started (37, T-8th)
Yorfrank Lopez – Games Started (26, T-4th)
Angel Nesbitt – Career: Saves (14, T-10th)

GOT ‘EM ... Fans may get frustrated watching pitchers throw to first trying to pick off the runner. For Flying Tigers pitchers, it wasn’t so much trying as it was succeeding. Edgar De La Rosa nailed 10 runners, including eight at first base, while Alex Burgos also picked off eight at first base. Kevin Eichhorn had six pick-offs while Locke St. John nipped five base runners. Behind the plate, Austin Green picked off six baserunners while Drew Longley got one napping at each base.

GRAND SLAM TIME ... Fans at the April 28 game against Daytona got to see a rare treat as each team hit a grand slam in that game. James Robbins did the honors for Lakeland while Jeimer Candelario answered for the Cubs. On a side note, Jeff McVaney had his own rare night, hitting two triples in that game. Lance Durham would get into the act on May 31, hitting a homer with the bases loaded. 

THE MANAGER(S) ... Skipper Dave Huppert had to step aside from his coaching duties on June 28 due to health issues. At the time, he had a 45-36 record with the club. Bill Dancy was named the interim manager with former Lakeland manager Kevin Bradshaw lending his hand as well. Huppert moved into 19th place all-time among minor league managers with 1,854 wins and now has a 1,854-1,698 career record. He is also the third winningest Lakeland manager with a 246-237 mark, trailing Dick Tracewski (392-402) and John Lipon (379-288).

POSITION GAMES PLAYED LEADERS ... 1B-James Robbins (121 games); 2B-Curt Powell (69); 3B-Tyler Hanover (96); SS-Jared Reaves (81); OF-Jeff McVaney (129), Connor Harrell (126), Chad Wright (118) and C-Austin Green (95).

PINCH-HITTING’S NOT OUR THING ... Jared Reaves is the only Flying Tiger to get a pinch-hit hit this season, singling for James Robbins on Aug. 23 against Daytona. Lakeland’s pinch-hitters were a combined 1x13 this year with a pair of walks.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS ... Lakeland was 31-37 at home and 31-37 on the road while going 0-1 in a neutral site game. The Flying Tigers were 14-9 in day games and 48-66 at night. Sporting a 17-26 record in one-run games, Lakeland was 6-13 in extra innings. The club was 48-18 when scoring four or more runs and 13-58 when the opponent did so. The Flying Tigers had one winning record on days of the week, posting a 9-8 record on Sunday and were the worst on Mondays going 6-11. 

NO RAIN! NO RAIN! ... Lakeland did not lose a game to rain the entire second half, playing all 70 games, something the team has not done since 2007. The Flying Tigers only lost three games all season, playing 137 contests.

LOTS OF MOVEMENT ... Unofficially, Lakeland had 106 transactions this season with fourteen players going on the disabled list (some twice). While no player made the jump to Detroit this season (as Hernan Perez did a year ago), three Flying Tigers pitched at AAA Toledo: Alex Burgos, Scott Sitz and Will Startup. Thirteen players climbed up a step to AA Erie: infielders Tyler Hanover, Brandon Loy, and Dixon Machado; catcher Drew Longley; and pitchers Alex Burgos, Tommy Collier, Guido Knudson, Angel Nesbitt, Brennan Smith, Slade Smith, Will Startup, Jake Thompson, and Josh Turley.

THREE GAMES, THREE TEAMS ... Alex Burgos experienced a whirlwind tour of the Detroit organization appearing in games in Erie, Toledo and Lakeland in succession. On July 7, Burgos worked a game in Lakeland and four days later on July 11, earned a promotion to AA Erie. There he pitched on July 12, working 1.0 inning and recording two strikeouts with one walk and one hit batsman. A week later, on July 19, the 5’11” lefty, walked the only batter he faced in an brief appearance at AAA Toledo. Three days after pitching in the International League, Burgos came full circle, returning to Lakeland to pitch 3.1 innings against Jupiter.

THOMPSON WINS FUTURES GAME ... Jake Thompson was the winning pitcher in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game on July 13. Thompson came on in relief in the sixth and also pitched into the seventh. He was the pitcher of record as the USA defeated The World.

DRAFT CLASS ... Six members of Detroit’s 2014 Draft Class made it to Lakeland in Trent Szkutnik (20th round), Whit Mayberry (21st), Michael Thomas (22nd), Tyler Ford (27th), Locke St. John (32nd), and Nate Fury (36th)

DEALT AWAY ... Jake Thompson started the season in Lakeland and was promoted to AA Erie. Late in July he was part of the trade Detroit with Texas made for closer Joakim Soria.

SEASON SERIES ... Playing in the North Division, Lakeland split its 20 games with Tampa, went 8-10 against Clearwater and Dunedin, 6-12 against Daytona and 5-11 against Brevard County. In the South Division, Lakeland went 5-3 in four season series (Bradenton, Fort Myers, Jupiter and Palm Beach) while going 3-5 against Charlotte and 2-6 versus St. Lucie.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mission Notes vs. Clearwater (Aug. 29-31)

THE SERIES ... Lakeland puts the lid on the 2014 season with a three-game homestand against Clearwater. Opening game is set for 7:11 pm Friday with the sandwich game Saturday at 6 pm. The season finale is Sunday at 11 am. This series has been a tale of two paths. The Flying Tigers won the first seven games before the Threshers roared (swam?) back to take six of the last seven.

THE FLYING TIGERS (20-47, 6th, 20.0 GB; 62-72 overall) ... Lakeland snapped a seven-game losing steak last night with a 4-1 win at Brevard County. The Flying Tigers are 3-12 since Aug. 14 and 6-18 since Aug. 4. Lakeland will be looking to avoid its worst second half showing of 20.5 games out of first place which came in 2000 and 2009. The Flying Tigers will have to sweep this series to avoid have the fewest wins in a half for any Lakeland club. The sweep would put then one game ahead of the 2004 club that finished 22-42 and holds the dubious distinction of having the fewest W’s. The 2014 club has already lost the most game in a half for any Lakeland squad, eclipsing the mark previously held by the 2003 and 2007 teams which each lost 46 games.

THE THRESHERS (29-38, 5th, 11.0 GB; 46-89 overall) ... Clearwater dropped two of three to Tampa and is now 4-7 since Aug. 19. Art Charles is second in the Florida State League with 19 homers, six back of the league-leader, Adam Brett Walker of Fort Myers who has 25. Charles has hit five homers and driven in 11 runs his last 10 games and is also tied for the team lead with 48 extra base hits. Roman Quinn is third in the league with 30 stolen bases while Herlis Rodriguez is 8x15 his last four games. 

8/29 - RHP Edgar De La Rosa (7-9, 3.22 ERA) ... De La Rosa, who ranks sixth in the FSL with a 3.22 ERA, gave up a pair of runs on three hits with four strikeouts and zero walks over 4.0 innings in his last start on Aug. 23 versus Daytona. In his two starts before the Cubs game, he had allowed a combined 10 runs on 16 hits in 9.0 innings. De La Rosa has 23 strikeouts and 14 walks his last seven starts. He is 1-1 with a 0.41 earned run average in three previous starts against the Threshers with 18 strikeouts and eight walks in 22.0 innings in which he has allowed just one run and five hits. 
8/30 - RHP Logan Ehlers (4-3, 4.66 ERA) ... Ehlers got roughed up in his last outing on Aug. 24 against Daytona, allowing six runs on seven hits in 6.0 innings. It was just his fourth start of the season. As starter, he is 1-3 with a 4.67 ERA after posting a 3-0 mark and a 4.63 ERA In 21 relief appearances. Ehlers has made one relief appearance against Clearwater this season, giving up a run on two hits with two walks and a strikeout in 2.1 innings.
8/31 - RHP Tommy Collier (3-2, 3.89 ERA) ... Collier allowed just one run on six hits in his last start on Aug. 26 at Brevard County. He struck out six and walked three in 6.1 innings in that start and now has 23 strikeouts and 10 walks over his last four starts. Collier has not faced Clearwater in 2014, but was 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA in three starts against the Threshers in 2013.

ROBBINS IN FSL THIRD ... With 17 homers entering this series, James Robbins is tied for third most in the Florida State League. His 17 round-trippers is the most for a Flying Tiger since Tony Plagman clubbed 18 dingers in 2011. The Lakeland single season record is 29 by Ryan Streiby in 2008.

McVANEY FIFTH IN FSL ... Jeff McVaney has driven in 71 runs this season, placing him fifth in the Florida State League. The 71 RBI is the most for a Flying Tiger since Tony Plagman knocked in 97 runs in 2011. McVaney is also tied for third with 45 extra base hits 203 total bases. With a triple at Tampa Thursday, he now has moved into a tie for fourth place with 12 three-baggers for his career. With his next game played, McVaney will move into the Lakeland top ten with 130 games played this season, tying several others.

I’M (NOT) WALKING ... Lakeland has drawn just two bases on balls in the last three games. Meanwhile, the Flying Tigers have struck out 26 times.

BAT MOBILE IN THE GARAGE ... These two squads are ranked last in the Florida State League in terms of team batting average. Clearwater has the  lowest mark in the league at .233 while Lakeland is second lowest with a .249 mark. The Threshers have scored the fewest runs in the league while Lakeland has crossed the plate the fourth fewest times. Only Tampa has struck out more times than these two teams with Clearwater having whiffed 1,057 times and Lakeland 1,054 times. This is the ninth time since 2000 that a Lakeland squad has struck out 1000 or more times.

ALL OR NOTHING ... When one of these hitters does make contact, it’s a pretty good bet it may leave the park. Behind Art Charles’ 19 homers, the Threshers have hit the most home runs (88) in the league while the Flying Tigers are tied with Dunedin for fifth most homers at 77 round-trippers. Lakeland’s 77 homers is the most for a Flying Tigers team since the 2011 club hit 84 dingers and is the ninth highest total in franchise history.

MEAN GREEN MACHINE ... Austin Green has hits in nine of his last ten games and has gone 16x40 (.400) during that stretch with nine runs scored, three homers, and 11 runs batted in. He hit his 15th homer of the season in last night’s win at Tampa, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the Lakeland single season list with Ryan Roberson (2007), Cody Ross (1998), Kurt Airoso (1998) and Juan Encarnacion (1996). 

SHOT AT GLOVE MARK ... Heading into this final three-game series, Lakeland’s defense has been charged with just 107 errors which, if the season ended today, would be a franchise record, besting the mark of 109 set in 2012. Connor Harrell continues to hold down the top spot among league outfielders with a .997 fielding average and Lakeland remains the top defensive team in the league with a .979 fielding percentage and are now tied with Brevard County for the fewest errors (107) in the league.

NESBITT NAMED FSL ALL-STAR ... Angel Nesbitt, who was called up to AA Erie way back on June 19, is Lakeland’s lone representative on the 2014 Florida State League postseason All-Star team. Nesbitt still ranks second in the FSL with 14 saves and was 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA at the time of his promotion. 

ANOTHER LAKELANDER TO HIT THE SHOW ... Detroit plans to use former Flying Tiger Kyle Ryan in a spot start on the mound in the night half of Saturday’s day/night doubleheader against the White Sox. Ryan, out of nearby Auburndale High School, was 12-7 with a 3.17 in 24 starts for Lakeland last season. He was 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts at AAA Toledo and Saturday would have been his next slot in the Mud Hen rotation.

HEADED TO THE AFL ... For four former Flying Tigers, their season will not end this month as the quartet, along with three others and Toledo manager, Larry Parrish, will play for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. Heading out west will be Daniel Fields (2010-12 in Lakeland), Steven Moya (2013), Devon Travis (2013) and Drew VerHagen (2012-13), along with Zac Reininger, Joe Mantiply and Chad Smith.

SPEAKING OF ALUMS ... Steven Moya was named the Eastern League MVP for 2014 while second baseman Devon Travis was named to EL All-Star team. Moya is fourth in the minor leagues with 34 home runs and also has 32 doubles. He is hitting .270 with 102 runs batted in for Erie. Travis is hitting .296 on the year with 20 doubles, six triples, 10 homers and 50 runs batted in.