Worst batting average in league can't stifle Legends' winning ways

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJuly 26, 2013 

There is little secret to the Lexington Legends' success this season.

A pitching staff that leads the South Atlantic League in earned run average has carried a team that is last in the league in offense.

Leading the SAL's Southern Division by two games heading into play Friday, Lexington had a recent eight-game winning streak and won nine of its last 11.

During the win streak, the Legends hit .198 (52-for-262).

But Legends pitchers held opponents to 1.75 runs a game. Defense was solid, helping them to three one-run victories, and the offense did enough to average 4.1 runs.

After a 33-35 first half, Lexington is 21-11 since then.

So what changed after the break?

"I think it all goes back to the pitching and defense," Manager Brian Buchanan said. "We've been pitching really well. Our starters are keeping us in games. Our bullpen is coming in and doing the job.

"We're swinging the bats a little bit better. We're getting some key hits when we need them. We're playing a lot of close games, so we're going to have to do the little things right — steal some bases and move guys over and hit some sac flies. We've been doing that."

If the Legends keep this up, they will earn the franchise's fourth playoff berth, and first since 2006.

That from a team that is batting .214 — 28 points lower than the second-to-worst hitting team in the league — and whose 359 runs are 41 fewer than the next lowest total in the league.

Right fielder Fred Ford, who leads the team with 10 home runs, thinks the offense will "absolutely" get in gear.

"You've got to score runs to win games and you've also got to have great pitching to win games. And we have the ability to do both," Ford said. "Down the road, if this team's going to be a first-place club and playoff club trying to make a run, we're going to have to score runs. They become more crucial as the season grinds on. But we'll pick it up. We're not worried about that."

Exactly, .268-hitter Mark Threlkeld said after going 3-for-4 Thursday night.

"We're getting big hits, clutch hits, when we need them and that's encouraging," Threlkeld said. "More hits are going to start coming along. The pitching staff's going to keep doing what they're doing. We're going to start getting the bats going and start putting rallies together. I think that's just right around the corner."

At 2.83, the Legends are the only team in the league with a sub-3.00 ERA. Next best is Savannah at 3.02.

Lexington tops the SAL in shutouts (13) and saves (38).

Right-hander Christian Binford counts as the ace, second in the league with a 2.00 ERA. With a 6-4 record, he is fifth in the league with 99 strikeouts (with 19 walks) and a 1.05 WHIP, and fourth in innings pitched (103.1).

"Oh, it's so much fun," Binford said of the mood in the Legends locker room. "When you're on a winning streak, nothing matters. You're just having fun out there.

"Some guys are going to go 0-for-4, some guys are going to go 3-for-4. When you're struggling hitting, it's really stressful, and I fully understand that. So you're just trying to keep it light in the clubhouse and have fun."

With the likes of Aroni Nina (8 wins), Daniel Stumpf (7 wins, including a no-hitter), Miguel Almonte (a Futures Game participant) and Mark Peterson (13 saves), the pitching staff has been tough all season. Then there's John Walter.

Promoted from Idaho Falls on June 22, Walter has made nine relief appearances. He is 1-0, 5-for-5 in save opportunities, and has surrendered only one hit in 122⁄3 innings.

"I've only been with the team the second half of the season. But definitely, coming off this win streak, everyone's confidence level has gotten a lot better," Walter said. "Pitchers throwing more strikes, keeping us in the games, and hitters getting us some quality at-bats."

With a few more quality at-bats, no telling how far these Legends will go.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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