Pelicans open second half with eye on playoff streak

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans begin the second half of the season by starting a four-game series with Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. first pitch at the Lynchburg Hillcats.

The Pelicans need to win the second half of the Carolina League’s Southern Division to keep their streak of five straight playoff appearances intact. They have reached the finals the last three years, winning two Mills Cup championships.

Here’s a look at the Pelicans headed into the second season:

CALL TO ARMS
Over the last 25 games, Myrtle Beach has seen their starting pitching catch fire, with the club’s rotation ceding just 39 runs, 35 earned, on 127 hits in 139.2 innings for a 2.26 ERA. Pelicans starters have whiffed 118 while walking only 29 during this stretch. Not coincidentally, Myrtle Beach has allowed more than four runs just once in these 25 games. Birds starters are averaging 5.2 innings per start over this stretch, compared to 4.2 prior to this run.

THOU SHALL NOT PASS
Pelicans pitchers have walked just 196 batters this season, by far the fewest in the Carolina League. In fact, Down East, which has issued the second-fewest free passes (211), is closer to the fourth-place tie of Winston-Salem and Frederick than they are to Myrtle Beach. The Birds have dished out no more than three walks in 11 consecutive games, their best run of the season to this point.

BROKEN BATS
While Myrtle Beach’s pitching has been excellent of late, the Pelicans closed the first half with losses in seven of their final eight games. The club has really struggled offensively during this run, scoring a grand total of 17 runs over this eight-game stretch (2.1 per game). In fact, outside of plating seven runs on June 11, the Birds have gone seven contests in a row without tallying more than two runs. As a team over the last eight games, Myrtle Beach is posting a batting line of .192/.270/.261 (234 AB, 45 H, 8 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 23 BB, 2 HBP).

MONASTERIO MASH
Myrtle Beach infielder Andruw Monasterio has reached base multiple times in nine contests during his 12-game on-base streak. Over these last 12 contests, the Caracas, Venezuela native is 18-for-48 (.375) with one double, one home run, six RBIs and four walks. After slashing just .241/.313/.287 (75 wRC+) in a brief stint at the High-A level last year, Monasterio is hitting .274/.359/.343 (105 wRC+) this season. Part of his success is a better approach at the plate; after walking in 5.2 percent of his plate appearances in 2016 and 8.3 percent last season, Monasterio is posting a career-best 11.1 percent walk rate in 2018, the third-best mark on the team.

P.J.’S PANCAKE HOUSE
Myrtle Beach catcher P.J. Higgins has been the Pelicans’ second-most productive hitter to this point of the season according to his 117 wRC+, a park and league-adjusted stat that attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. Higgins has reached base in 27 of his last 31 games, hitting 33-for-107 (.308/.408/.402) with seven doubles, one home run, 13 RBIs and 18 walks. On the season, the Wallingford, Conn., native has shown a discerning eye, increasing his walk rate from 10.6 percent last year to 13.5 percent in 2018. The former Old Dominion Monarch has also hit for more power (.061 ISO in 2017, .102 in 2018) by lacing more line drives this season, upping his line drive rate from 19.1 percent last year to 23.3 percent (15th-best in the Carolina League) in 2018.

EYE OF THE TIGER
Over his last four starts Myrtle Beach starter Alex Lange has surrendered just five runs on 22 hits in 26.2 innings for a 1.69 ERA (25 K, 3 BB). Lange’s hot streak has helped push his FIP, an ERA estimator based on factors most within a pitcher’s control like strikeouts, walks and home runs, to 2.83, the third-best mark in the Carolina League. Lange has walked only 4.4 percent of batters this season, which ranks second in the circuit. Interestingly, when opponents put the ball in play, 19.7 percent of batted balls have been line drives, the 15th-highest mark in the league. However, Lange’s ground ball rate is 42.6 percent, the 18th-highest mark in the circuit.

Photo courtesy of MB Pelicans

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