by Adam Sobsey
The problem with winning streaks is that they end. After rattling off series wins against Toledo, Columbus and Charlotte, which put them back at the top of the mountain, the Bulls then looked down and saw Gwinnett and Norfolk---their two closest competitors in the International League South Division---coming up to try to knock them off. After Gwinnett basically handed Durham the first game of the three-game set at the DBAP, the Bulls responded by more or less giving one back, and then nearly stealing one late that they had no business even coming close to winning.
And then last night they faced Norfolk, who sat just a game behind. The Bulls basically gave that one away, too, losing 5-3 despite putting 17 men on base in the game on 11 hits and six walks. And although the Bulls went 4-8 with runners in scoring position, they hit into four double plays, were caught stealing third once, and had a runner thrown out at home plate trying to score from second on a single to left field. These last two erasures both came in the fourth inning. I'm not prepared to call them SBGs since I didn't see them---although I suspect at least one of them was---but the fact is that the Bulls lost a game they should have won. A whopping 15 of the 24 men faced by starter Andy Mitchell reached base. That is Houseresque.
Against the Bulls' terrible inefficiency, the Tides looked downright mercenary. They had only six hits all night but all of them went for extra bases: four doubles and two home runs, all of the hits but one of the doubles off of starter Wade Davis, who took the loss. It was doubly (ha ha) unfortunate that Davis couldn't turn back the Tides (double ha ha), because relievers Jorge Julio and Joe Bateman collaborated on their third scoreless support performance in a row. What is going on with these two? Suddenly they think they're the Gorch Brothers or something?
It's a dangerous moment for the Bulls, a streaky team that can't afford a deepening of the three-game slide they've slipped into against their closest divisional pursuers. The All-Star break follows the series at Norfolk (congrats, by the way, to Dale Thayer, a late addition to the All-Star roster after Pawtucket's Clay Buchholz declined his invitation); after that the Bulls go on the road to face West Division-leading Louisville and then Indianapolis, which has two rather scary starters in Tom Gorzelanny (1.08 ERA over his last six starts) and Ian Snell (a 0.45 ERA in three starts since his demotion from the majors; struck out 13 batters in a row (!) and 17 overall against Toledo two weeks ago). Then it's home for four more games against Norfolk before a trip up to Scranton to face the Yankees, who have the league's best record.
All in all, the Bulls play 14 of their next 18 games against teams with three of the four best records in the league (the Bulls themselves are the fourth). All but four of the games in the current stretch are on the road. By the time August 1st rolls around, Durham could be either the cream of the league or creamed by the league. The rest of July is milking time.
Carlos Hernandez takes the mound for Durham on Saturday to try to stop the bleeding. Speaking of bleeding, two injury notes:
* Andy Sonnanstine, recently down from Tampa and the author of a pair of quality starts for Durham, has gone on the 7-day disabled list retroactive to July 8. No word on the type or severity of his injury. Reliever Calvin Medlock was recalled from that magical, mythical place known as Hudson Valley, which probably just means he took off the sweatshirt covering his Bulls uniform after putting it on a week ago. Meanwhile, look for James Houser to step back into a starting role unless Mitch Talbot returns from his stint on the DL.
* Utility infielder Ray Olmedo has missed a couple of games with what Watching Durham Bulls Baseball's Chris Wise informs us is a bruised calf. If Olmedo had to get hurt, waiting until Elliot Johnson's return was conscientious of him.