The Lakewood BlueClaws were the Phillies’ worst affiliate during the first half of the 2015 season. They put up a 29-40 record on the back of a horrendous start. Then over the course of the season they had their 3 best starting pitchers (Luke Leftwich, Shane Watson, and Drew Anderson), three of their best hitters (Jiandido Tromp, Josh Tobias, and Zach Coppola), and one their better relievers (Jeff Singer) all promoted to Clearwater. This of course explains why the BlueClaws returned to a .500 season record and at a second half record of 34-23 now stand 3 games clear of Hagerstown for a playoff spot.
The first obvious improvement has been the starting pitching. The BlueClaws replaced the departed starters with Alberto Tirado and Seranthony Dominguez up from Extended Spring and Williamsport respectively. They joined the existing rotation of Harold Arauz, Tyler Gilbert, Franklyn Kilome, and Jose Taveras (Edgar Garcia also got a few starts but it appears to have mostly been during Arauz’s injury). That group of six starters has put up the following line in the second half – 273.2 IP 236 H 97 ER 76 BB 303 K. For those less likely to do math, that is 7.8 H/9, 3.19 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, and 10.0 K/9. This is low-A so there have been some clunkers like Kilome over the weekend that have hurt their overall numbers, but they are not walking hitters and they are missing bats at rate well above what is expected for low-A.
Backing up the rotation has been a solid bullpen. Sutter McLoughlin (2nd half 1.38 ERA 26 IP 12 H 4 ER 6 BB 26 K) has taken over the closer role. LHP Zach Morris rattled off a long scoreless streak before giving up some runs in August and RHP Ismael Cabrera has given them solid innings. Lakewood also got their first draft reinforcement in RHP Grant Dyer (they just recieved Blake Quinn but he has yet to pitch) who has a 3.26 ERA in his time in Lakewood but has gone 19.1 innings in 6 games to go with 6 walks and 26 strikeouts. Overall the bullpen lacks a real weak point.
This turns us to the offense, where some of the star power on the team has really come to carry the roster. On the non-star side Mark Laird has come in and replaced Zach Coppola without the team missing a beat and Josh Tobias’ promotion has meant everyday at bats for Grenny Cumana who is not supplying any power, but does have a second half on base of .352. This then brings us to the BlueClaws three best hitting prospects. Deivi Grullon is getting on base less in the second half, but he is striking out less as well as hitting for a touch more power while maintaining his normal great defense. The big boost came in the second half when 2015 first round pick Cornelius Randolph rejoined the team. Randolph still is not hitting for much power, but is hitting .286/.359/.361 since returning to the team. He is usually batting in front of South Atlantic League home run leader Jose Pujols who is showing improvements in the second half walking more on his way to a .263/.332/.495 line. The two offensive stars have picked it up even more in August to help build Lakewood’s lead up. Randolph is batting .316/.368/.418 in August in front of Pujols who is currently having his best month of the year hitting a scorching .342/.409/.620 while reigning in his strikeouts.
Lakewood is still lacking the star power of Reading going into the playoffs, but their starting pitching will make them formidable in any playoff series and should help carry them the last leg of their playoff push. If Jose Pujols has really turned his season around, the BlueClaws with Laird, Randolph, and Pujols at the top of the order are going to be hard to keep off the board as well. Reading (3.5 game division lead) and Lehigh Valley (4.5 game WC lead) are in good playoff positions, the GCL Phillies are currently tied for the division lead, the Clearwater Threshers are 2 games back of division, and Williamsport is 2.5 games back in the Wild Card as a stateside playoff sweep is still possible.