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Aviators Geared up for Triple-A Final Stretch in 2021 Homestand Finale

September 23, 2021 - Pacific Coast League (PCL) - Las Vegas Aviators News Release

A little over a month ago, there wasn't a hotter team in Triple-A West than the Aviators, who put together a 15-3 run from August 15-September 4 that pushed the club back into contention for its second straight division title. Alas, Las Vegas was unable to sustain that momentum, stumbling to the finish line by dropping 11 of its final 15 games.

As a result, the Aviators (62-58) finished the 2021 season in third place in the West Division of Triple-A West, 11 games behind first-place Tacoma. The silver lining for Las Vegas (and its fans): The regular season might be over, but a new twist to the Triple-A postseason is about to begin - and the Aviators are invited to the party.

Minor League Baseball announced earlier in the summer that, in lieu of a traditional postseason tournament, all 30 Triple-A teams would play 10 additional games at the conclusion of the truncated 120-game regular season. This modified postseason was dubbed the "Triple-A Final Stretch," and the format is simply this: Each team plays five home games and five road games from Thursday through October 3, and the club that finishes the sprint with the best 10-game winning percentage will be declared the Final Stretch champion.

Las Vegas' Final Stretch begins with a five-game homestand against the Oklahoma City Dodgers that begins at 7:05 tonight at Las Vegas Ballpark. Following an off-day Tuesday, the Aviators fly north one last time for a season-ending five-game series against the rival Reno Aces.

Las Vegas faced the Dodgers just once during the regular season and took care of business with relative ease. While on their torrid 15-3 run, the Aviators stopped in Oklahoma City and closed out August by taking five of six games. In between convincing victories of 6-1 and 5-1 that bookended the series, Las Vegas escaped with three close wins (5-4, 10-9 and 6-4) and suffered a one-run loss (5-4).

Should the Aviators duplicate that success against the Dodgers at Las Vegas Ballpark this week, they'll be in prime position to snatch the Final Stretch title-if they can then overcome their instate nemesis. Las Vegas went 9-15 against the Aces this season, including dropping four of six during its most recent homestand at Las Vegas Ballpark. On the bright side, the Aviators held their own in Reno, going 5-7, including splitting a six-game series in early July.

Oklahoma City (61-58) and Las Vegas finished with near-identical records, with the Dodgers placing second in the East Division of Triple-A East, 9½ games behind first-place Sugar Land. The Aces (69-49) led the West Division for most of the season but ended up finishing three games back of Tacoma, which was declared the 2021 Triple-A West regular-season champion by virtue of a record that was two games better than Sugar Land.

Interestingly, both Oklahoma City (34-26) and Reno (39-21) played much better on the road than at home (27-32 and 30-28, respectively). Meanwhile, the Aviators ended up four games over .500 at Las Vegas Ballpark (32-28) and dead-even on the road (30-30).

PÈREZ POWERS WAY TO HR, RBI TITLES: The Aviators' regular season may not have played out like they hoped, but they have a bona-fide Triple-A West MVP candidate - and he might be the favorite to win it.

Veteran catcher Carlos Pèrez ended up leading the league in home runs (30) and RBI (85), beating out Salt Lake center fielder Jake Gatewood in both categories. Further bolstering Pèrez's MVP candidacy is he led Triple-A West in total bases (206), ranked fourth in slugging percentage (.592) and sixth in OPS (.915).

Making those stats even more impressive is the fact Pèrez played in 23 fewer games than Gatewood (91 vs. 114) while also playing multiple positions. Throughout the second half of the season, roster changes forced the 30-year-old Venezuelan to add left field and first base duties to his catching/designated hitter chores.

In 13 previous minor league seasons, Pèrez had never hit more than 14 home runs or tallied more than 60 RBI (he established those personal bests in 2019).

'HITTING' A WALL: If the Aviators are going to make a run at the Stretch Run crown, they will need their cool bats to heat up in a hurry. Beginning with the series in Oklahoma City on August 26, Las Vegas scored six runs or fewer in 23 of their final 24 regular-season games, including the last 21 in a row.

Prior to this offensive slump, the Aviators enjoyed a nine-game stretch from August 15-24 when they scored at least seven runs eight times (tallying 84 runs in all).

One player who continued to deliver at the dish (and on the basepaths) over the regular season's final weeks was outfielder/infielder Mickey McDonald. A midseason callup from Double-A Midland (Texas), McDonald batted .352 (51-for-145) with 33 runs, 10 doubles, three triples and 19 RBI over his final 40 games with Las Vegas. The 26-year-old California native also went 9-for-9 in stolen-base attempts.

NAILE-ING IT DOWN: No Aviators pitcher had a better finish to the regular season than reliever James Naile. Over his final 12 appearances dating to August 23, Naile gave up just one run and 14 hits in 15 1/3 innings. The right-hander didn't walk a single batter, struck out 12 and lowered his season ERA from 5.32 to 4.10.

Fellow right-handed reliever Ben Bracewell also was terrific down the stretch, giving up earned runs just once in his final 11 appearances (also going back to August 23). During this span, Bracewell surrendered four runs (three earned, all in one game) in 11 innings and dropped his ERA from 4.43 to 3.90.

Combined, Naile (8-0) and Bracewell (5-3) accounted for 13 of the bullpen's 38 victories this season.

PROMOTIONS IN MOTION: The Aviators ninth and final homestand of 2021 will feature a slew of fan-friendly promotions, starting with $2 Beer Night in Thursday's series-opener against the Dodgers.

Fireworks will follow Friday's game, while the first 2,000 in attendance Saturday will receive a free Aviators Fleece Blanket. The homestand concludes with the final Mutt Monday of the season.

Individual tickets for all five games are available through the team's ticketing page. Except for Sunday's 12:05 p.m. start, first pitch throughout the series is at 7:05 p.m.

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