Despite Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the Lexington Legends still have life with four games left in the season's first half.
Charleston leads Lexington by four games in the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League. The Legends must win Thursday's home game against Bowling Green, sweep three at Greenville, and hope Charleston loses its last four games. Unlikely, but possible.
A year ago, the Legends' only possible finish was last.
"I think we're doing all right," Manager Tom Lawless said in assessing how the Legends have compiled a 34-32 record. "I think we could have done a lot better if we hit the ball better. Being last in the league in hitting for most of the first half, you've got to credit the pitchers for doing a great job of keeping us in the ball games and giving us a chance to win 2-1 and 3-1."
Much of Wednesday's game at Applebee's Park exemplified the Legends' modus operandi.
Hot Rods left-hander Matt Moore no-hit the Legends until Brian Pellegrini lined a two-out single in the seventh.
Eight days earlier, Asheville right-hander Juan Nicasio tossed 71⁄3 no-hit innings against the Legends before Steve Brown bunted for Lexington's only hit of the game.
Wednesday, All-Star right-hander Ross Seaton kept the Legends close, holding Bowling Green to two runs (one earned) over 62⁄3 innings.
With the no-hitter over, Moore was replaced by Chris Andujar. Back-to-back singles by Ebert Rosario and Kyle Miller scored Pellegrini to make it 2-1, and Jay Austin's eighth-inning triple scored Andy Simunic to tie.
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Legends' bullpen allowed three ninth-inning runs.
That snapped a five-game winning streak and the Hot Rods' five-game losing streak.
Lexington's first-half defense has been up and down.
Center fielder Austin had one of the good games Wednesday, notching two assists. He threw out Tim Beckham at first base to complete a first-inning double play and nailed Justin Reynolds at the plate to end the fifth inning.
"We've done pretty good," Austin, 18, said of his team's first half. "We've had a couple ups and downs, but we've just got to finish up strong. We can't give up because you never know what can happen."
The Legends are last in the league with a .234 batting average, and at or near the bottom in runs, hits and walks. The saving grace on offense has been the long ball. The Legends rank second with 44 homers, 20 more than their pitchers have allowed.
Pellegrini is the primary home-run threat. He hit seven for High-A Lancaster to open the season, and he has nine in 30 games with the Legends.
"Hopefully, we can win out and put some pressure on those guys at the top," Pellegrini said. "But, if not, nonetheless build our confidence going into the second half of the season. With our heads up, not down."
Pitching coach Travis Driskill says that about 66 percent of his staff's pitches have been for strikes.
Lexington's ERA (2.98 through Tuesday) ranks third, and its 145 walks allowed are fewest in the league.
The starting rotation of Robert Bono, Jordan Lyles, Ross Seaton, Brad Dydalewicz and Kyle Greenwalt — none older than 20 — has been better than its 22-22 record. Their combined ERA: 2.83.
In the bullpen, when closer Daniel Meszaros (10 saves) was promoted, left-hander Patrick Urckfitz (six saves) stepped in, along with righties Ashton Mowdy (two saves, 1.32 ERA) and Henry Villar (three saves, 1.72 ERA).
The Legends have stolen 48 bases to their foes' 35. So the aggressive offense Lawless likes hasn't been lacking.
The missing ingredient: base runners.
"That's why we're hovering around .500," Lawless said. "If we had any consistent, good offense for two, three weeks at a time, getting eight, nine, 10 hits a game, we'd win a lot of baseball games. Right now, we're not doing that. Hopefully, second half, we can turn that around a little bit."