Despite nearly half the roster changing over in the last few weeks, forcing manager Charlie Montoyo to make third basemen pitch and catchers play second base; despite the departure of the No. 1 pitching prospect in the land, the team's everyday shortstop and its best hitter; despite injuries to their leading home run hitter and starting catcher; and despite playing in the best division in the International League, the Durham Bulls, after scoring five times in the top of the ninth to beat Buffalo 7-2 on Saturday, have the best record in the league.
The Bulls got some help in this one, in the form of Buffalo errors and two important infield hits. And as Chris Wise demonstrates, Durham's record betters what the numbers support. (I'd bet good money that it has to do with a good record in one-run games, which in turn has to do with having a very good bullpen. Good work there, Chris.) Yes, there's luck involved---and it helps that Norfolk, with whom the Bulls have running neck and neck for a while now, are 2-8 over their last 10 games---but right now, Durham looks like an opportunistic, hungry, unflappable, resilient team that takes advantage of everything it gets.
On Saturday, Henry Mateo (pictured, top) was the flag-bearer, scoring in the fifth inning when his triple begat a throwing error. The very selective Brandon Chaves drew a bases-loaded walk to score another run. Matt DeSalvo navigated 6 2/3 innings with 11 groundouts, and then Joe Bateman (3-0) and Dale Thayer locked it down for him. In the ninth, Mateo beat out an infield hit, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Rene Rivera, and scored the deciding run on yet another error.
No, this time David Price probably isn't coming back. Yes, Chris Richard has gone back on the disabled list and can't play again until at least Thursday. Justin Ruggiano struck out three more times tonight (he owns second place in the league) and hasn't homered in weeks. Matt Joyce hasn't appeared in either of the games the Bulls have played since his return from Tampa. The two Bulls who played arguably the biggest roles in Saturday's win were toiling in the independent Atlantic League three weeks ago. More and more, the team looks like an assemblage of spare and used parts.
And they've got the best record in the league. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
The bluest chip on the team, Wade Davis, is on the mound Sunday afternoon for the 38-24 Bulls. Regardless of the outcome, when the team returns home on Monday, they'll be in first place.