Before I left the office for Gesa Stadium, I put together some Northwest League stats for tomorrow's paper. I'm used to seeing Tri-City pitching staff at the top of the league, and this year is no different. The Dust Devils have the lowest team ERA in the league at 3.22, and also have allowed the fewest walks in the league at 133 — an average of 3.2 a game.
But what's unusual about the 2011 Dust Devils is that they're also one of the best offensive teams in the league. Most years, Tri-City is in the lower half of the league in most major offensive categories, except maybe stolen bases — Freddie likes his teams to swipe a base or two whenever they can.
This season, however, the Dust Devils are a top-3 team in all the major categories — third in batting average (.263), second in runs scored (234, an average of 5.6 a game), third in hits (380, just over 9 a game) and third in RBI at 208.
We've seen Tri-City teams with some great individual offensive players, but this is the first Dust Devils team that seems to have a terrific grasp on how to generate runs through all nine spots in the order.
Speaking of generating runs, the Dust Devils are getting to Vancouver starter Jesse Hernandez early. Brian Humphries led off the game with a bloop double to left and went to third on Tyler Massey's one-out infield single. Then a strange play, Jared Simon flied out to center fielder Jonathan Jones, scoring Humphries. But Jones then tried to double Massey off first, but no one was there and Massey trotted to second on the misplay.
Then another odd play. Juan Crousset singled hard to Jones in center, and Ocasio put up the stop sign at third for Massey. But Massey didn't see it and kept chugging through. He stopped halfway there when he saw the relay had him beat, and when Canadians shortstop Bryan Kervin deked a throw to third, Massey decided to try for home. Kervin's throw beat Massey easily, but catcher Pierce Rankin couldn't dig it up out of the dirt, and Massey was called safe to give Tri-City a 2-0 lead.
The Dust Devils also got runs in the second and third innings to push the lead to 4-0.
Tri-City keeps the offensive train moving along, piling on three more runs in the fourth to take a 7-0 lead. Massey drove a two-run double to the left field corner, and Crousset drove him in with a single over third base.
Meanwhile, the Dust Devils pitching has remained very effective against the C's. Starter Nelson Gonzalez scattered six hits over six shutout innings, getting Kervin to ground into a couple of 4-6-3 double plays. Gonzalez also escaped a potentially messy situation in the fourth after loading the bases with nobody out. But Gonzo struck out Roan Salas and Steve McQuail — Vancouver's Nos. 6 and 7 hitters — and then got Rankin to ground out to David Hernandez at second to end the inning.
Rafael Suarez replaced Gonzalez in the top of the seventh and struck out the side on 11 pitches. Wow!
Good to see Craig Bennigson getting a shot here. He suffered through a rough outing yesterday in a 9-5 loss, giving up five runs in just a third of an inning. But I'm sure pitching coach Dave Burba knows from experience that it's best just to have a short memory and get back out there.
And look at that, Bennigson sticks it. It wasn't the smoothest inning I've ever seen from him — he hit the leadoff man and then gave up a one-out single. But then he struck out Balbino Fuenmayor, the cleanup guy, and got Nick Baligod to ground out to second to end the inning.
Good for you, Craig. Nice work!
Ken Roberts goes 3-up, 3-down in the ninth to close out the Dust Devils fourth shutout of the year and second in three days.
Tri-City wins it 7-0 to take a two-game lead in the East Division after Boise loses 8-7 to Everett.