There weren’t a lot of tremendously newsworthy events in the International League but there were some interesting stories.
The Player of the Week was Brandon Laird of the Syracuse Chiefs (WAS) who hit .423/.429/.923 over a six-game span that included a fantastic, four-game home run streak. The 26-year-old third baseman in the Nationals’ system has been playing in the minor leagues (with a few cups of coffee in the big leagues along the way) since 2007 after being drafted by the New York Yankees in the 27th round. This season, he’s putting up some of his best numbers with a .312/.367/.456 slash line that includes 16 doubles and six home runs.
Pitcher of the Week, Charlotte Knights (CWS) lefty Eric Surkamp, impressed by making two very strong starts this week. In 14 innings, he allowed only one run on eight hits and two walks with an 15 strikeouts. Surkamp joined the White Sox organization this offseason after being claimed off waivers from San Francisco; he had been a sixth round draft pick by the Giants in 2008. Surkamp has also had a couple of tastes of the majors but this season he’s struggled a fair bit with the Knights but, if his recent performance is any indication, seems to be turning the corner. Surkamp is currently the strikeout leader in the IL, holding a one-K lead over Alex Meyer of the Rochester Red Wings.
The Syracuse Chiefs have opened up a 5.5 game lead over the Rochester Red Wings and appear to be pulling away from the rest of the North Division thanks to an eight-game winning streak, making them the hottest team in the International League.
In the South Division, Durham has lost eight straight games but it appears that no one in that division wants to step up and take the lead from them: Gwinnett is four games back but have gone 4-6 in their last ten and Norfolk and Charlotte are both over 10 games back.
In the West, the Indianapolis Indians are holding off the charging Columbus Clippers who are riding a three-game win streak and have won seven of their last 10. The Indians have a 4.5 game lead over Columbus and are 6-4 in their last ten, allowing them to maintain a solid hold of first place.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about Steven Souza‘s rise from controversy to a brief stint in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals. He’s been a key player in the success of the Syracuse Chiefs and played a big role in an 11-run inning in a 16-3 win by the Chiefs over the Durham Bulls on Saturday. Not only did he have a three-hit night with five RBI, but he drove in four of those runs on two hits in the 11-run second inning. Souza currently leads the International League with a .369 batting average and a 1.039 OPS thanks to a huge .463 on-base percentage and 23 extra-base hits.
The new home run leader for the International League is 1B/DH Dan Johnson who has 16 home runs. 34-year-old Johnson has been very quietly putting together a season on par with some of his best years. Johnson has a 30-home run minor league season under his belt which came in 2010 with the Durham Bulls. He, amazingly, hit those 30 home runs in only 340 at bats, posting a .303/.430/.624 line. This year, his batting average is slightly down, to .256, but his OBP is stellar at .399 and he’s taken 60 walks with only 48 strikeouts.
Buffalo’s Liam Hendriks and Syracuse’s Taylor Hill are in hot competition for the ERA crown in the IL. Both have 1.92 ERA marks although Hendriks has 23 fewer innings under his belt (thanks to three unsuccessful starts in the majors) but has walked only four batters in 70 1/3 innings (to Hills 9 walks in 93 2/3 innings).