Soaring Aviators Look to Stay Hot During 12-Game Homestand
The Aviators arrived at Las Vegas Ballpark on the Fourth of July having lost five consecutive games and seven of their previous eight. What's more, they were a season-high five games under .500 and a season-high 11 games out of first place.
And it was about to get worse: Facing the Sacramento River Cats on a sweltering late afternoon, Las Vegas trailed 12-7 at the game's midway point and 14-11 heading into their final at-bat.
As sunset gave way to darkness and fireworks began lighting up the Southern Nevada sky, the Aviators desperately needed to detonate some pyrotechnics of their own - and that's precisely what they did, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth and one in the 10th to steal a 15-14 victory.
At the time, the miracle rally - while important in snapping a five-game slide - was little more than a Band-Aid on gushing open wound. Some 3Â½ weeks later, however, that Fourth of July spectacular is looking more and more like a season-saving tourniquet: Following Tuesday's 11-1 rout of the Salt Lake Bees in the finale of a six-game road trip, the Aviators (37-35) are now 14-7 in their last 21 games since July 4, including 8-1 at home.
Las Vegas will have a chance to build on both of those impressive hot streaks - and perhaps continue inching up the Triple-A West Western Division standings - when it returns to Las Vegas Ballpark on Thursday to begin the second and final 12-game homestand of the 2021 season. It starts with a six-game series against the Tacoma Rainiers that runs through Tuesday and concludes with another six-gamer against Salt Lake from August 5-10.
Despite their recent run of success, the Aviators still find themselves in third place in the Western Division, eight games back of first-place Reno and two behind second-place Tacoma. While not an ideal position to be in with 60 percent of the season complete, Las Vegas is at least within striking distance - something that looked unlikely in the first week of July.
What's been most impressive is the Aviators have steadied their aircraft amid a buch of roster turbulence. Not only did third baseman Jacob Wilson take his 33 extra-base hits (14 homers, 17 doubles, two triples) and team-high 46 RBI to Oakland when he was promoted on July 8, but Las Vegas lost first baseman and cleanup hitter Frank Schwindel just one day after he returned from his own stint with the A's.
Caught up in a 40-man-roster numbers game with Oakland, Schwindel - who had been the Aviators' most productive hitter with a .317 batting average, 16 homers, 41 RBI and 42 runs through the first seven weeks of the season - was released on July 16 and subsequently claimed by the Chicago Cubs.
Then this week, the A's included two key Aviators players in a pair of trades, sending outfielder Greg Deichmann to the Cubs on Monday and starting pitcher Jesús Luzardo to the Miami Marlins on Wednesday. Deichmann appeared in 60 games with Las Vegas and hit .300 with 14 doubles, three triples, four homers, 35 RBI, a team-high seven stolen bases and 50 walks (which led Triple-A West).
Luzardo, who had been regarded as one of the A's top pitching prospects, struggled with consistency after being demoted to Las Vegas in late June and wound up going 2-2 with a 6.52 ERA in eight starts (including one rehab outing). However, the hard-throwing southpaw was coming off consecutive strong performances, holding El Paso and Salt Lake to a combined five runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out 11 in 11 innings.
Luzardo's recent turnaround mirrored that of the entire Aviators' pitching staff, which has been as responsible for the team's recent surge as the offense. Including Tuesday's 11-1 win at Salt Lake, that staff has limited the opposition to five runs or fewer in 13 of the past 21 games, including allowing three runs or fewer eight times.
Even without Luzardo, the Aviators' pitchers should feel confident heading into the series against Tacoma, whose offense ranks in the middle of the pack in Triple-A West. And although the Rainiers (39-33) sit one spot ahead of Las Vegas in the standings, they've been spinning their wheels this month (13-13) at the same time that the Aviators have been soaring.
"We're definitely playing some of our best baseball of the season right now, particularly at home," says Las Vegas manager Fran Riordan. "That's been especially nice to see because our fans have been so supportive of us this season, and it's important for our guys to reward that support. Hopefully, that continues during this long homestand and we can put ourselves in position over the final weeks of the season to make a serious push at a second straight division title."
STILL ON THE OFFENSIVE: Even without Wilson, Schwindel and now Deichmann, the Aviators continue to rank in the top three in Triple-A West in every meaningful offensive category. They lead the league in home runs (124); rank second in runs (495), triples (24), RBI (473), walks (310), slugging percentage (.506) and OPS (.869); and rank third in batting average (.281), hits (717), doubles (153) and on-base percentage (.364).
Las Vegas is within striking distance of the league leaders in hits (18 behind Reno), doubles (three behind Reno), triples (one behind Salt Lake), RBI (10 behind Reno) and walks (one behind Oklahoma City).
HITTING IT BIG: After destroying the baseball throughout June, Aviators outfielder Cody Thomas was a relatively easy choice for Triple-A West Player of the Month honors. The July award is much more up for grabs, and this time Las Vegas sports a trio of legitimate candidates in catcher Carlos Pèrez, third baseman Vimael Machín and second baseman Nate Mondou.
After going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and an RBI double in Tuesday's series-capper at Salt Lake, Pèrez is now batting .299 in July with 12 homers (including three grand slams), 31 RBI, 16 runs, two doubles, a triple, 10 walks and a whopping 1.093 OPS.
Machín hit safely in five of the six games against the Bees, and since July 2 he's batting .337 (30-for-89) with six homers (including two grand slams), six doubles, a triple, 17 RBI, 24 runs and 11 walks. Over this span, Machín has hit safely in 18 of 21 games, including 10 multi-hit contests.
Mondou also shined in Tuesday's win, going 3-for-5 with a run scored as he finished the Salt Lake series 10-for-24 (.417) with two homers, four runs, four RBI and three walks. In 23 July games, Mondou is batting .368 (35-for-95) with two homers, 10 doubles, 15 runs, 17 RBI and 12 walks. The 26-year-old also has 12 multi-hit games this month (including a trio of three-hit games), and he leads the Aviators with a .343 batting average (minimum 30 games played).
ISN'T IT GRAND: With his second-inning grand slam during Sunday's 10-6 victory over Salt Lake, Pèrez became the first Las Vegas player with three slams in a season since infielder Brooks Conrad in 2005 - and it took the veteran catcher exactly three weeks to accomplish the feat.
The only player in Las Vegas franchise history to hit four grand slams was first baseman/outfielder Brian Myrow, who did it over two seasons (2004-05).
GOING STREAKING: Shortstop Pete Kozma enters the homestand riding a 10-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .308 (12-for-39). Kozma has five separate hitting streaks of at least five games this season, including two 10-game streaks and a nine-game run.
Also, catcher Austin Allen continued his torrid hitting in Salt Lake, recording at least one hit in all six games while finishing the series 9-for-27 (.333). Going back to mid-June, Allen has hit safely in 26 of his last 29 contests, including a 15-game hitting streak from June 17-July 9. During the 29-game stretch, the veteran catcher is batting .325 (39-for-120) with seven homers, six doubles, 16 runs and 20 RBI, and he's raised his season average from .253 to .291.
Finally, outfielder Skye Bolt hit safely in each of the final five games against the Bees, during which he batted .588 (10-for-17, including 4-for-5 in Tuesday's series finale) and scored eight runs.
TRANSACTION ACTION: With Jackson landing on the injured list, the A's promoted left-handed reliever Aaron Brown from Double-A Midland (Texas). Brown, who went 1-3 with a 3.58 ERA and nine saves in 28 appearances with Midland, made his Triple-A debut on Sunday in Salt Lake and pitched a perfect eighth inning. He duplicated that effort in the ninth inning Tuesday.
Also, in the wake of Deichmann being traded, outfielder Mickey McDonald was called up from Midland for the second time this season. In his first stint with Las Vegas, McDonald went 2-for-6 with a double, two runs, an RBI and a stolen base in six games. He started in right field Tuesday and went 3-for-5 and scored twice.
HOMESTAND PROMOTIONS: The 12-game homestand will feature a slew of promotional nights, including three in a row to start the series against Tacoma. Thursday is $2 Beer Night, while the first 2,000 fans through the gates will receive an Aviators car trunk organizer (presented by Pulte Homes) on Friday and Steiner's Beer Cups (presented by Steiner's Pub) on Saturday.
Other promotions include:
- Reyes de Plata Nights (Tuesday and August 10)
- $2 Beer Night (August 5)
- Fireworks Show (August 6)
- Aviators T-Shirt Night, presented by The Valley Health System (August 7)
All 12 games during the homestand begin at 7:05 p.m.
Catch every Aviators game throughout the season on Raider Nation Radio 920-AM, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @AviatorsLV.
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Pacific Coast League Stories from July 28, 2021
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