Though the second half of the season has been up and down for Arkansas, Manager Phillip Wellman is pleased with Travelers’ progress lately.
Starting the second half with a five-game winning stretch, the Travs followed with a season-high eight-game losing skid. Then, the Travs erupted for a season-high six-game winning streak. Last week’s four-game road stand at Tulsa saw the two teams split the series with the Drillers winning a doubleheader Friday while Arkansas won the last two games Saturday and Sunday in come-from behind wins in the eighth inning. Saturday’s 5-2 victory moved the Travelers into a one-game lead in the North division second-half race.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Wellman said. “Anytime you are in first place and a couple of games up, I think it is good, and we will continue to do our part. We’ve always had decent pitching and good defense, but now our offense is starting to pick up.”
Though the Travelers have ridden a rollercoaster the second half, Wellman said it is just part of the progress of a minor league team. One reason for Arkansas’ offensive spark is outfielder Mike Bianucci. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .275 which includes two .500 performances and a total of four home runs.
“He has helped tremendously and has helped get us going,” Wellman said. “He has a tremendous amount of power. His two-run homer last Sunday night helped us hang in there.”
In Sunday’s 9-8 triumph, Bianucci’s two-run blast in the eighth gave Arkansas a 9-6 lead. That cushion was needed as the Drillers tallied two runs in the bottom of the ninth. That was the second time the Travs won in the eighth frame as they scored four runs in Saturday’s 5-2 victory to erase a 2-0 deficit.
Wellman didn’t get to witness any of the eighth-inning comebacks. All Angels’ minor-league managers are required to take a four-day vacation, and Wellman’s occurred during the Tulsa series.
“I’m thrilled, and it’s always nice to win games like that,” he said. “It’s nice to know you have the ability to score, and we’ll continue to get better.”
After a 6-3 loss Monday at Northwest Arkansas, the Travs hold a one-game lead over the Naturals. With 40 games left, Wellman said it is still too early to talk about the pennant race. But, he knows his players realize what is at stake.
“They know what’s going on,” he said. “From our perspective and the organization’s, our job is to develop players. It is easier to develop when every game counts and every at-bat counts. We will continue to get better, and that has been the process all year. It is a lot easier when you are winning and not getting your butts kicked.”
Arkansas completes a three-game series with Northwest Arkansas on Wednesday and then returns home to Dickey-Stephens Park for a four-game series Thursday through Sunday with Tulsa and then hosts Northwest Arkansas for three games Monday through Wednesday.