Tim Livingston, Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations
The final game of the first half for the Sonoma Stompers was not all that dissimilar to the games that helped them to a first half championship. Great starting pitching, an offense that is tough from top to bottom, and defense that makes the tough plays look easy.
In Thursday's 10-4 win over Vallejo (13-26), Sonoma (26-11) finished off the first half with their fifth consecutive win and their 13th victory over the Admirals in their 15 matchups this season. They had 10 hits and had yet another inning where they batted around, taking advantage of eight walks on the evening.
The star of the show for the Stompers was their newest addition. Taylor Eads, who was 0-for-5 in his first two games as a professional, finally got a batting average in a big way on Thursday. He went 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs and a walk, including the go-ahead RBI single in the fourth and a two-run ground rule double in the fifth, which is where the big inning occurred.
Five runs came in during that crucial inning, as the Stompers offense got to David Dinelli (3-3) the third time through the order and chased him from the game. Coming into the game, Dinelli had a 6.91 FIP when batters faced him for the third time, nearly three runs higher than the second time through and almost five runs higher than his initial go-around the order.
With it also being the fourth time Sonoma has seen Dinelli this year, the Stompers picked the right time to strike against the former Astros farmhand, and took advantage of Dinelli's wildness to keep the inning going, as three free passes kept the baserunners plentiful.
After giving up the double to Eads, Dinelli was not happy with his performance and ended up getting ejected from the game because of his actions as he left the field and entered the dugout. It was a night full of frustrations for the Admirals, as all three outfielders were pulled from the game at some point.
Brad Young was pulled after striking out in the second while both Jaylen Harris and Robert Brown were pulled in the ninth after a miscommunication on a ball in shallow right-center field. That left the Admirals without a position player, meaning starting pitchers Devon Ramirez and Demetrius Banks took over in center and right field respectively, with Ramirez showing off his athleticism on a sliding catch in the ninth.
On the pitching side of the ledger for Sonoma, it was more of the same for Mike Jackson, Jr. (4-0), who continued his stellar run as a starter with five great innings where he gave up only two runs on four hits with eight strikeouts.
He gave way to Ryusuke Kikusawa, who had issues with his control at times, but finished off the final four innings by allowing two runs on one hit with four walks and five strikeouts. It was the first four-inning save of the season for Sonoma and the fourth time this season a pitcher earned a three-plus inning save.
At the plate, besides Eads' terrific performance, both Matt Hibbert and Mark Hurley had two-hit nights, with Hurley extending his hitting streak to 13 games. It was the sixth multi-hit game over that time period for Hurley, who is now hitting .324/.392/.465 on the year for the Stompers.
The Stompers ended the first half with a run differential of +72, far and away the best in the Pacific Association. As a team, they hit .293/.385/.421, leading the league in all three triple slash categories. They had a 124 wRC+, 20 points higher than San Rafael's 104. They led the league in ERA at 4.02 (although they were behind San Rafael in FIP at 3.74; the Pacifics were at 3.38) and had a WHIP of 1.32.
When you put it all together with a defense that has allowed the fewest runs in the Pacific Association, the Stompers have remained a well-oiled machine even with some changes to personnel, which is expected at the turning point of the season. New manager Takashi Miyoshi is 5-0, including the two games in which he was filling in as manager before taking on the interim job this past Tuesday.
Eads looks like he might be looking more comfortable at the plate with three games under his belt while the sensational Santos Saldivar has one of the most impressive single performances in relief that anyone has seen in the Pacific Association this season. Yuki Yasuda has stepped in at shortstop and looked great, making two tremendous plays defensively Thursday night while also hitting .298 with a .799 OPS.
TJ Gavlik has started getting regular playing time, as well, and he responded with a couple of home runs during this past series against Vallejo while playing good defense at second base. All in all, Sonoma has made changes that even a championship-winning team needs to make in order to hold off the teams charging behind them, as both San Rafael and Pittsburg look like teams that will give the Stompers trouble come the second half.
That half begins tomorrow night as all four teams will have a clean slate to work from. Sonoma is guaranteed a spot in the Pacific Association championship on August 31, but if they win the second half, they will win the outright championship.
The Stompers will take on the Admirals yet again on Friday, with the two teams beginning the second half with a three game series at Wilson Park. The first pitch is set for 7:05 p.m with the radio broadcast beginning at 6:45 on StompersBaseball.com and the TuneIn app.