Lexington Legends

With playoff chase coming down to wire, Legends might have ace up their sleeve

Legends center fielder Kyle Isbel caught a fly ball in the top of the sixth inning during Lexington’s 5-1 loss to Augusta at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Wednesday.
Legends center fielder Kyle Isbel caught a fly ball in the top of the sixth inning during Lexington’s 5-1 loss to Augusta at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Wednesday. cbertram@herald-leader.com

In the midst of a rare late-season playoff push, the Lexington Legends have stumbled a bit in their final home stand of the regular season. Some shaky defense contributed to a four-run fourth inning by the visiting Augusta GreenJackets as the Legends fell 5-1 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Wednesday afternoon.

It was the second loss in a row by the Legends, who are fighting to secure the club’s first postseason berth since 2006.

Already leading Wednesday’s game 1-0, Augusta led off the top of the fourth inning with three straight singles off Lexington reliever Janser Lara to load the bases. The GreenJackets went up 2-0 on a groundout to first base, then plated their third run in unusual fashion.

Lara struck out Shane Matheny, but the strikeout pitch went through catcher Sebastian Rivero’s legs all the way to the backstop, allowing the runner to score from third while Matheny reached first safely. Lara hit the next batter to once again load the bases, then the GreenJackets scored their final two runs on an error when second baseman Ricky Aracena couldn’t handle a hard-struck grounder that took a tough hop.

The Legends didn’t get their first hit until Kyle Isbel’s single in the bottom of the fourth. He went to second on a fielding error. Isbel reached third on a sacrifice fly, but the next two batters failed to get him home. Lexington’s lone run came on Brewer Hicklen’s solo homer in the bottom of the seventh.

Manager Scott Thorman has guided the Legends to a 74-57 overall record this season. Lexington leads the second-half standings in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division with a 37-26 record. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Despite the loss, the Legends are still in the driver’s seat in the chase for a playoff spot. They led the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division second-half standings by 1 1/2 games over the Greenville Drive heading into Wednesday night, when the Drive were scheduled to face the third-place Asheville Tourists, who are 3 1/2 games behind.

It’s looking more and more like the Legends’ final series of the regular season will be packed with drama. After a rubber match with Augusta on Thursday at 7:05 p.m., the Legends will travel to Greenville for a four-game series beginning Friday that will decide who will face the Rome Braves in the first round of the SAL playoffs.

Depending on how things play out in the Legends’ finale with Augusta and Greenville’s final two games against Asheville, the Legends and Greenjackets could enter their series tied. Or, the Legends could lead by as many as three games — meaning Augusta would need a sweep to knock the Legends out of the playoffs since Lexington owns the playoff tiebreaker (combined first- and second-half records).

However the numbers stack up after Thursday’s games, the Legends should enter the Greenville series confident of their chances to clinch. The teams have played three series this year and the Legends have not lost any of them, owning an 8-3 record against the Drive. The Legends swept Greenville in the first series, won the second 3-1 and split the most recent, in mid-July, 2-2.

Not to mention, the Legends will be bringing along a weapon with which Greenville has yet to contend this year.

Legends starting pitcher Daniel Lynch delivered in the top of the second inning during Lexington’s 5-1 loss Wednesday. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Daniel Lynch has been lighting up opponents since being drafted by the Kansas City Royals with the No. 34 overall pick in June’s MLB Draft. The 6-foot-6 left-hander made three starts for rookie-league Burlington, striking out 14 batters and holding opponents to a .209 batting average, before being promoted to Lexington on July 13.

Lynch has looked even better against superior competition since he joined the Legends. He went 5-0 in his first eight starts with the team before getting hung with a tough loss in Wednesday’s game, where he allowed just one hit and one run while striking out six batters in three innings.

Lynch has pitched 40 innings for the Legends and has a 1.58 ERA. He’s struck out 47 batters while walking just six. Lexington’s most recent series against Greenville began on the day Lynch was called up from Burlington and the rookie from the University of Virginia didn’t pitch against the Drive in that four-game set. Chances are, he could play a big role in the upcoming series in Greenville and help the Legends finally make it back to the postseason.

Legends left fielder Brewer Hicklen (16) was congratulated after hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on Wednesday. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Legends’ remaining games

Thursday: Augusta, 7:05 p.m.

Friday: At Greenville, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday: At Greenville, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday: At Greenville, 6:05 p.m.

Monday: At Greenville, 2:05 p.m.