Aviators Soar Once Again on Road, Return Home Tied for First
Any athlete in any sport at any level will sing the same refrain, even if they might not click their heels three times while doing so: There's no place like home.
Of course, the same goes for the Aviators, whose players and coaches have consistently reiterated throughout the 2019 season how much the love brand-new Las Vegas Ballpark. From the immaculate playing surface to the vibrant crowds to the spacious, amenity-filled clubhouse, everyone associated with the team has thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural season at the new jewel of Downtown Summerlin.
But as they return home Thursday to begin a seven-game homestand - the penultimate home slate of the year - the Aviators (71-50) also are aware that they wouldn't be in the thick of the Pacific Coast League playoff race if not for their remarkable play away from home.
After winning five of seven games on a just-concluded road swing to Iowa and Omaha, Las Vegas is now 39-23 on the highway, including 21-8 since June 15 and 10-3 in the last 13. Not only that, but Las Vegas has won or split 14 of its 16 road series and 10 of 11 road trips - that's right, the Aviators have had just one losing trip all season.
Make no mistake, without their road success, Las Vegas - which is 32-27 at home - wouldn't be where it is today: a season-best 21 games over .500 and tied with the El Paso Chihuahuas atop the PCL's Pacific Southern Division with 19 games remaining.
Ironically, the Chihuahuas have also been road warriors - in fact, their 41-21 road record is tops in the PCL. However, as the regular season comes down the home stretch, it's likely that the division will be won by the team that best defends its own turf, as both El Paso and Las Vegas finish with 11 games at home compared with eight on the road.
Which of course makes the upcoming seven-game homestand against Albuquerque (51-70) and Reno (57-64) so vital. The good news for the Aviators? They've fared quite well against both the Isotopes and Aces this season, going 13-8 overall and 8-2 at home. In fact, they've fared well against pretty much every opponent over the past two months, posting a 34-17 overall record since June 15.
And like most talented teams, they've done it in a variety of ways, as they showed once more during their recent journey to Iowa and Omaha. For instance, Las Vegas opened the trip by outslugging Iowa 8-6 and ended the three-game series with a 4-0 shutout victory in which staff ace Paul Blackburn dominated for seven innings en route to his team-leading 10th win.
Then the Aviators went to Omaha and played three consecutive one-run games, winning two of them, before capping the trip with Wednesday's 4-2 victory that featured multiple key contributions: Starting pitcher Sean Manaea - still in the midst of a rehab assignment from the Oakland A's - and two relievers combined to limit the Storm Chasers to six hits and three walks while striking out 12; Franklin Barreto's two-run homer in the second inning gave Las Vegas a lead it wouldn't relinquish; and Sheldon Neuse (3-for-4) smacked an eighth-inning solo homer to provide some insurance for Parker Dunshee, who pitched the final three innings for his first save.
Just how good were the Aviators over the past week? Their only two defeats were by identical scores of 4-3 (including one in 10 innings).
Alas, while Las Vegas was getting the job done in the Midwest, El Paso was doing the same at home. After dropping the first two games of their seven-game homestand - which was part of a five-game losing skid that briefly allowed the Aviators to grab sole possession of the division lead - the Chihuahuas rebounded with five consecutive victories to remain neck-and-neck with the Aviators.
And so what has been a season-long battle for first place in the Pacific Southern comes down to this: 19 games in 19 days, all against different opponents. Let the must-win pressure (and scoreboard watching) begin!
JOSEPH GETS THE CALL: Not only has Corban Joseph been the Aviators' most consistent hitter all season, he's been one of the best in the entire PCL. And on Wednesday, the infielder finally got rewarded for his efforts when the Oakland A's added him to their 25-man roster. It's the third time Joseph has made it to the big leagues and the first since he played 14 games for the Baltimore Orioles last year.
At the time of his promotion, the left-handed-hitting Joseph ranked third in the PCL in batting average (.371), second in hits (142, two behind Neuse), tied for second in doubles (35), and sat sixth in both on-base percentage (.421) and OPS (1.006). He also had 13 homers, 73 RBI and 63 runs.
To make room for Joseph on the active roster, the A's optioned outfielder Nick Martini back to Las Vegas. Martini assumes the roster spot of catcher Beau Taylor, who was designated for assignment.
BROWN STILL BASHING: No Aviators hitter enjoyed the recent seven-game trip - or at least the final six contests, anyway - as much as Seth Brown. After going 0-for-5 in the opening contest, the first baseman/outfielder went 8-for-23 (.348) with four homers and 12 RBI.
With 34 home runs on the season, Brown not only has shattered his previous single-season high of 30, but he's just two back of Reno slugger Kevin Cron for the PCL lead. Brown also is tied with Cron for the RBI lead at 95 and ranks third in the league in runs with 91, just one behind Neuse and five back of Albuquerque's Sam Hilliard.
Since the All-Star break, Brown is batting .314 with 16 homers, 36 RBI and 28 runs.
ALSO CLIMBING THE CHARTS: Brown and Joseph are hardly the only Aviators flying among the league-leaders in various statistical categories. Besides leading the PCL in hits and ranking second in runs, Neuse is sixth in RBI (90) and tied for 10th in doubles (30).
Also, shortstop Jorge Mateo, who is currently on the injured list, is tied for first in triples (13), tied for fourth in hits (134), tied for 10th in runs (82), and ranks seventh in stolen bases (21), while outfielder Dustin Fowler is sixth in hits (131) and tied for sixth in both triples (seven) and runs (88).
On the pitching side, Blackburn is tied for fourth with his 10 victories, and ranks fourth in ERA (4.28), second in WHIP (1.24) and eighth in innings pitched (117 2/3).
ON DECK: Blackburn is scheduled take the ball Thursday in the opener of a four-game series against Albuquerque, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. The Isotopes, who are undecided on a starter for Thursday's game, are tied with Salt Lake at the bottom of the Pacific Southern standings, 20 games back of Las Vegas and El Paso.
After the series against Albuquerque, the Aviators will welcome instate rival Reno to Las Vegas Ballpark for a three-game set. The Aces are in second place in the Pacific Northern Division, seven games behind first-place Sacramento.
First pitch for all seven games of the homestand is 7:05 p.m.
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Pacific Coast League Stories from August 14, 2019
- Bees Host El Paso in Penultimate 2019 Homestand - Salt Lake Bees
- Aviators Soar Once Again on Road, Return Home Tied for First - Las Vegas Aviators
- Division Title on the Line as Reno Hosts Sacramento this Weekend - Reno Aces
- Fresno Grizzlies Issue Statement - Fresno Grizzlies
- Memphis Redbirds Homestand Highlights (August 15-25) - Memphis Redbirds
- Houston Astros Recall Round Rock Express RHP Cy Sneed - Round Rock Express
- Bullpen falters in series-ending loss to Sounds - Sacramento River Cats
- Read's walk-off double gives Tacos 8-7 win over Redbirds - Fresno Grizzlies
- Chihuahuas Bring out Brooms, Win Fifth Straight Overall - El Paso Chihuahuas
- Nashville Completes Comeback Win to Finish Series - Nashville Sounds
- Redbirds Stung in Bottom of the Ninth at Fresno - Memphis Redbirds
- El Paso Completes Sweep of Missions - San Antonio Missions
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