The Durham Bulls don't just have the best record in the International League. They're leading all of American professional baseball with 69 victories as of Tuesday afternoon.
With wins piling up thanks to consistent hitting and solid pitching, the team has just about locked down a playoff berth.
"Just scoring runs, playing defense and pitching, that's what it comes down to," infielder Vince Belnome says. "Whether we win 1-0, 10-9 or 14-0, we have to go out there and try to find a way to get it done."
Belnome's .318 batting average is second on the team and tied for third in the league. He also leads the team, and is second in the league, with 29 doubles.
The Bulls started the season with a couple of highly touted future stars on the roster. But outfielder Wil Myers and pitcher Chris Archer lived up to their billing so quickly that they were promoted to "the show" by May. Although the players who have continued to lead the Bulls have less star power, their performance has been exceptional.
Led by Belnome and fellow infielders Leslie Anderson and Cole Figueroa, the team is leading the International League not only in wins but also in almost every offensive category. Durham tops the league with a .278 batting average, .362 on-base percentage, 1,030 hits and 562 runs.
According to Belnome, Anderson has flown under the radar this season but has given the team a boost of energy. "Leslie's having an unbelievable year," he says. "He just goes out there and hits.
"When he's hitting, then everyone just seems to hit."
On the season, Anderson leads the team with a .321 batting average, second in the league, and 61 RBIs, and he tied for the team lead in hits, 108, with Belnome.
Pitching has kept opponents at bay for the Bulls, led by 2013 All-Star and team ace, J.D. Martin (13-4, 2.76) and by recent call-ups from Double-A Montgomery—Matt Buschmann (5-0, 3.23), Merrill Kelly (5-1, 2.63) and Mike Montgomery (5-5, 4.26).
Bulls pitching coach Neil Allen, while appreciative of his staff's work, acknowledges that he wondered if good fortune may have been favoring the Bulls' young pitchers for much of the season. "You just wonder how long you can ride the wave with a couple of them," he says. "There is no wave right now. They've proven to me that they belong to pitch here in AAA."
Josh Lueke (2-0, 0.57, 13 saves), Steve Geltz (3-3, 3.44, 3 saves), Kirby Yates (3-1, 1.29, 11 saves) and the rest of the Bulls bullpen have been consistent in closing the door when called upon in the latter innings this season.
"We've been playing a lot of the games close that were one-run games that we've finished off," Figueroa says. "The back end of our bullpen, with Lueke and Kirby, has been awesome—they haven't given up much at all."
With 69 wins, a 13 1/2–game lead in the South Division, and 34 games remaining on the regular season schedule, the team is sitting pretty.
"It all comes down to the team—you can't win games if everyone's not into it," Belnome says. "We have a great group of guys here, a great clubhouse and a good atmosphere. Everyone is laid-back and relaxed, and when it comes down to it, we just get the job done."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Getting the job done."