Greetings from sunny Pensacola, Florida! The Generals have arrived in the panhandle for a five-game series against the Blue Wahoos (Cincinnati), and spirits are high.
After taking four of five from Birmingham, Jackson sits atop the North Division at 10-4. It is the team’s best start since 2012. The Generals lead the league in almost every major offensive category: batting average (.287), runs (73), on-base percentage (.354), slugging percentage (.392) and OPS (.746).
Seattle’s “Control the Zone” mantra has more than taken root at the Double-A level. The Generals have struck out fewer times than any other Southern League squad. They just don’t seem to give up at-bats. With two outs and men in scoring position, the team boasts a somewhat absurd .364 average. “Grinding” is the term most often used when I speak to Manager Daren Brown about the team.
The last series exemplified that style of play. The Generals took four in a row from Birmingham despite the Barons scoring first in each of those games. Monday’s matchup between pitching prospects Carson Fulmer and Edwin Diaz turned into a slugfest out of the gate. After Diaz surrendered a leadoff homer in the top of the first, Tyler O’Neill returned the favor for Jackson in the bottom half.
Yeah, that ball was crushed. O’Neill’s blast went an estimated 430 feet and left his bat at 115 (!) miles per hour. The Generals didn’t look back en route to a 9-3 victory in which they recorded 13 hits. Oh, and Diaz wasn’t bad either. He struck out eight over five innings while allowing just a run on two hits.
On Tuesday, the Generals came back from three runs down in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead into the eighth. Birmingham tied the game in the top of the inning, but Jackson manufactured a run in the next home half. Benji Gonzalez reached on an infield single and was sacrificed to second, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position for Steve Baron.
On Wednesday, the team mounted a more than impressive ninth inning rally. The Generals were down to their final out with nobody on base trailing by a run, but that did not phase the top of the lineup. Guillermo Heredia and Tim Lopes singled to put men on the corners, and Tyler O’Neill tied the game with a broken bat base hit to left. Leon Landry wouldn’t just let the game go into extras, though.
More of the same in Thursday’s finale. After falling behind early, Jackson scored four runs on five hits in the first two innings. They only added one more knock the rest of the way, but it stood up. The Generals actually recorded the final out on a rundown between third and home in the ninth.
The Generals are now a league-best 4-0 in one-run games this season. It has been impressive to watch this team. It may not be the most prospect-laden bunch in minor league baseball, but everyone on the roster finds a way to chip in. They’re doing all the little things well, which is why they find themselves where they are.
It’s early, but hopefully the Generals will continue playing well. They’ve got a tough test in Pensacola, the Southern League’s best team on the mound. Something’s gotta give.