Third baseman Stanley Espinal saw his five-game hitting streak come to an end Friday as the Spikes dropped a 4-0 contest to the Auburn Doubledays. Espinal failing to record a hit has been a rare occurrence lately.
After an 0-for-4 start to the month on July 1, Espinal, who is hitting .273 this season, has recorded a hit in 13 of the team’s last 16 games. He batted .375 in the two series before this weekend’s split against Auburn, in which he went 1-for-8.
This has been a breakout season for the 21-year-old Espinal after he struggled across several levels in his last two minor league seasons. The Red Sox organization signed Espinal out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, and the righthanded batter started his career by hitting .281 in the Dominican Summer League in 2015.
Espinal followed by hitting .217 in the Gulf Coast League in 2016. He was traded to the Cardinals last summer and assigned to the Spikes, where he batted .143 in five games before being assigned to Johnson City. Espinal posted a .203 batting average in 22 games to finish off last season and found himself back with the Spikes this spring..
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The third baseman has given the Spikes a bit of much-needed pop at the plate. He picked up his team-leading third homer of the season in Thursday’s loss to West Virginia. Espinal hit his first homer of the season in his first game with the Spikes on June 17. It took him 19 games to go deep for a second time, but he has now gone yard twice in his last seven games. Espinal hit six home runs in his first season of pro ball, but he hasn’t had more than two home runs in a season since.
What’s On Deck?
State College was off Monday after going 1-1 in a rain-shortened series against Auburn this past weekend. The Spikes are back on the road to face the Connecticut Tigers (17-17) for a three-game series on Tuesday.
The Spikes arms should fare pretty well against the Tigers. Connecticut currently ranks 13th in the 14-team New York-Penn League in team batting average (.217) and last in OPS (.601). Tigers batters have also struck out 368 times this season, which is 27 more times than any other team.
Eric De La Rosa, a seventh-round pick by the Tigers, has been locked in at the plate for Connecticut since being assigned from the organization’s Class A affiliate on July 5. The 6-foot-4 outfielder is hitting .400 with four doubles in 12 games.
Catcher Sam McMillan is currently ranked the organization’s No. 14 prospect by MLB.com. The 19-year-old is batting just .196 with 29 strikeouts in 26 games this season, though. There’s also a slight chance the Tigers could assign this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Casey Mize, to Connecticut during the series against the Spikes. The righthanded pitcher was scheduled to throw a bullpen on Monday.
Dahlberg shines, stays winless
Lefthanded pitcher Jake Dahlberg twirled another gem for the Spikes in Sunday’s 3-2 win against the Doubledays. Dahlberg allowed five hits and tied a season-high with eight strikeouts in seven shutout innings. It was the second consecutive game Dahlberg logged seven innings and struck out eight batters without allowing an earned run.
In his last three starts, Dahlberg allowed just one earned run and struck out 23 batters in 21 innings pitched. During that stretch, he lowered his ERA from 4.03 to 2.28. Even with a third consecutive brilliant outing, Dahlberg continues to search for his first victory of the season. In Sunday’s outing, Dahlberg left with the game scoreless before the Spikes eventually pulled out the victory in the 10th inning.
One-run games help the Spikes
Following a four-game losing streak, the Spikes are a respectable 3-2 in their last two series with one series win and one series split. Things could have looked a lot worse if not for a pair of one-run victories.
In last Tuesday’s series opener against West Virginia, State College held onto an early four-run lead to beat the Black Bears, 4-3. Things were even more exciting on Sunday as the Spikes scored three runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat Auburn, 3-2. The Spikes started the season 1-4 in their first four one-run ball games. Beginning with a 6-5 win against Williamsport on June 29, they’ve now won four of their last six one-run contests.