Even steamrollers have to come to a stop eventually. The Asheville Tourists’ 12-game winning streak — the longest in professional baseball this year — finally reached its end Thursday night with a 9-8 loss to Greensboro at McCormick Field.
But the T’s certainly didn’t go down easy, coming back from a deficit four different times and forcing the game to the 10th inning before running out of comebacks. Asheville goes into the weekend with a 27-7 second-half record,the top mark among minor leagues that break up their seasons into two halves.At 68-35 overall (and .600 winning percentage), the Tourists have the best record in all of minor league baseball.
Last week, while attending a game against Savannah — during which Asheville took an early 5-0 lead and later extended the margin to 8-2 — my friend turned to me and asked, “Are they really this good?” Having watched this team all season, I answered “Yes” immediately.
The Tourists’ lineup has been regularly crushing the opposition, leading the South Atlantic League (SAL) in team batting average (.292), runs scored (590) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.808). While winning 12 consecutive games, Asheville outscored its opponents by a combined score of 75-35. In six of those 12 games, the T’s won by three or more runs.
With almost six weeks remaining in the 2014 season, making the playoffs still isn’t a sure thing. The Tourists lead Savannah by five games in the SAL’s Southern Division, and a slump could quickly change the standings. But the chances of some postseason baseball are looking pretty darn good right now.
Happy trails, David Dahl
One big factor in the Tourists’ recent success was the hitting of outfielder David Dahl. During Asheville’s 12-game winning streak, the 20-year-old Alabama native batted .366 (15-for-41) with five doubles and seven RBI. For the season, Dahl compiled a .305 batting average and .846 OPS with 33 doubles, 10 home runs, 41 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
You might notice the use of past tense in that prior paragraph. That’s because Dahl was promoted by the Colorado Rockies to advanced Single-A Modesto on July 24. It was only a matter of time before the 2012 first-round draft pick would move up in the organization. His performance this year affirmed all of the expectations he carried into last year’s injury-shortened season and that were placed him on just about every minor league expert coming into 2014.
Will losing Dahl hurt the Tourists’ playoff drive? Losing such a productive player won’t help, but the team is playing so well that it should be able to continue its success. Raimel Tapia, Ryan McMahon, Michael Benjamin and Correlle Prime are putting up big numbers, while just about everyone on the roster is making meaningful contributions. Dillon Thomas was called up from short season Tri-City to take Dahl’s spot on the Tourists roster.
Best wishes to Dahl. One of the reasons I was so excited to cover the Tourists for Ashvegas is because I knew I’d get to see Dahl play. And he most certainly did not disappoint. We may not have seen the last of Dahl in Asheville, either. Speaking to the Modesto Bee’s Brian Vanderbeek, he mentioned the possibility of coming back to the Tourists for the playoffs.
I’m just glad I got to interview him before he moved on to Modesto. It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had with an athlete. You know, the two players that we’ve interviewed this season — Pat Valaika and Dahl — were both promoted mere weeks after we spoke. Other Tourists might want to take note in the remaining weeks of the season. The sample size is small, but there is mounting evidence of an Ashvegas bump taking place after these interviews.
Angels send Ian Stewart back to minors
One quick former Tourists note: Ian Stewart was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels this week. Rather than refuse the assignment and become a free agent, the 29-year-old infielder opted to go to Triple-A Salt Lake after clearing waivers. In 24 games with the Angels, Stewart batted .176 with two home runs and seven RBI. According to MLB.com, he’s been struggling with a thumb injury recently.
*** The Asheville Tourists continue their homestand through Tues. July 29 before hitting the road for seven games. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.
Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:40 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter.