RAINIERS WITHIN REACH

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Tacoma Rainiers left fielder Ian Miller smacks a double against the Fresno Grizzlies on Sunday, July 15, at Cheney Stadium. Miller has been having a solid season for the Rainiers batting .274, with nine doubles, three triples, 32 runs batted in, 32 walks and 21 stolen bases. Photo by Rocky Ross

Summer has been flying by for the boys of summer, and the Tacoma Rainiers have been doing their best to remain in the playoff picture. Despite another bevy of player transactions this season, the Rainiers have been able to stay focused and the ball club has been playing above .500 now for more than a month.

However, the Rainiers (51-45) haven’t been able to get closer than 2.5 games behind the first-place Fresno Grizzlies (55-40). 

When Fresno paid a recent visit to Cheney Stadium for a four-game series, the Rainiers began the set of games trailing the Grizzlies by 4.5 games. After a couple of victories, Tacoma had closed the gap to just 2.5 games back. However, the Grizzlies rebounded with a couple of wins and the Rainiers would hit the road right where they started four games prior.

As of this article, the Rainiers have just 43 games left on the regular season schedule. Where has the time gone? Of those 43 games, there are only 21 games remaining at Cheney Stadium, unless the Rainiers can catch a little more fire and finally catch Fresno in the home stretch. This sounds like a great time to snag some tickets for what looks to be an exciting month and a half of baseball on Tyler Street.

Prior to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff began showing some tire wear. Starting pitchers James Paxton and Felix Hernandez each sustained injuries that required several call-ups from the Tacoma Rainiers’ roster. Luckily, they were short-lived transactions and the team appears to be nearly at full strength.

Second baseman Gordon Beckham and pitchers Nick Rumbelow, Christian Bergman, Casey Lawrence and Mike Morin have all been recently called up by the Mariners. Since these call-ups, only Lawrence currently remains on the Mariners’ active roster. In addition, outfielder Cameron Perkins is spending his second stint on the disabled list in less than a month, while stud starting pitcher Rob Whalen was activated from the disabled list on Monday, July 16.

The Colorado Springs Sky Sox (53-41) are currently leading the PCL American Northern Division by one game ahead of the Oklahoma City Dodgers (51-41). The Memphis Redbirds (61-35) are running away with the PCL American Southern Division, leading the second-place Nashville Sounds (46-48) by a whopping 14 games. The best race in the league is taking place in the PCL Pacific Southern Division with the El Paso Chihuahuas (52-44) maintaining a slim two-game lead over the Salt Lake Bees (50-46). The Albuquerque Isotopes (45-50) and the Las Vegas 51s (45-51) are also within striking distance, trailing by just 6.5 and seven games, respectively.

Let’s take a look at the past week of Rainiers’ baseball.

On Thursday, July 12, Tacoma welcomed Fresno to town and a great crowd of 5,559 sun-drenched fans helped the Rainiers perform a little home cooking. Despite connecting for just five hits in the ball game, Tacoma was able to make the small output count in the 4-3 victory. Second baseman Adam Law had slapped a double, and that would be the extent of Tacoma’s extra-base hits. Starting pitcher Bryan Evans earned the win going six innings, while giving up just two earned runs. Ryan Cook earned his third save of the season.

The following night, a crowd of 7,096 passed through the Cheney gates under sunny skies, with temperatures hovering in the 80s. The Tacoma bats came alive with 12 hits, and they would need them all to secure an 8-7 victory over the Grizzlies. Law was sensational at the plate, racking up three doubles on the night, with three runs batted in and two runs scored. Center fielder Andrew Aplin also added a double. Reliever Dario Alvarez would earn the win in just 1.1 innings of work, while Shawn Armstrong picked up his eighth save of the season.

On Saturday, July 14, Fresno exacted a bit of revenge in front of a crowd of 6,843 fans at Cheney. The Grizzlies muffled the Rainiers, holding Tacoma to just five hits en route to a 7-1 victory. Law continued his hot streak at the plate with a home run in the second inning, while Aplin added another double. Starting pitcher Williams Perez was tagged with the loss after giving up four earned runs in his four innings of work. Perez has since been sent back down to Double-A Arkansas.

Tacoma was hoping for a series win on Sunday, July 15, but the bats remained dormant in a 5-3 loss to Fresno. Left-fielder Ian Miller and designated hitter John Andreoli had a double each. Starting pitcher Darren McCaughan was saddled with the loss, giving up four earned runs in four innings of work. McCaughan has since been sent back down to Single-A Modesto.

After splitting the home series with Fresno, the Rainiers headed south for a four-game set against the Reno Aces. Tacoma’s bats exploded for 15 hits and 10 runs to take a 10-6 victory in game one. Beckham returned to the Tacoma line-up to slap a couple of doubles, with shortstop Nick Vincej adding his own two-bagger. Alvarez would garner the win, despite pitching just 0.2 innings. Armstrong earned his ninth save of the season.

On Tuesday, July 17, the teams put together a slug fest in 95-degree heat. The Rainiers would fall 10-9 after giving up four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Aplin, Law and Beckham kept the Rainiers in it with home runs, while Law also added another two doubles. Designated hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis, catcher Cameron Rupp and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach also smacked doubles. Reliever Daniel Schlereth took the loss, giving up three earned runs, while walking two batters.

Law has been on fire since moving up from Double-A Arkansas. Through 27 games, the 28-year old is currently batting .359, with 10 doubles, three home runs, 15 runs batted in, 37 hits and 20 runs scored. 

Tacoma returns home for a three-game series against the Salt Lake Bees on Friday, July 20, at 7:05 p.m. After a seven-game road trip to Round Rock in Texas and then New Orleans, Tacoma will return home for a huge seven-game set against Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs beginning on Wednesday, August 1, at 7:05 p.m.

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