The Memphis Redbirds came into Friday with a winning percentage well over .600.
They’ve run away with their division, with the next closest team 16 games behind, and are the top pitching team in the league by a long shot.
The 51s saw why firsthand on Friday as the Redbirds beat Las Vegas 8-3 in the series opener at Cashman Field.
“The pitchers show a lot of poise and they seem like they’re in control the whole game. They have a really good lineup. From the top to the bottom (they) can hit, have speed, they can just do a lot of different things. They can hit the longball and also take a bag, go first to third and they play really good defense, too,” 51s’ first baseman Dominic Smith said. “They’re just a well-rounded team. They have different ways they can win each night.”
Friday, they won by scoring early off P.J. Conlon and limiting the 51s (50-55) with runners in scoring position.
“I thought we had a few chances. We weren’t very good with runners in scoring position tonight, 2-for-13,” manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “We led the game off with a double. We couldn’t score him in the first inning. That would have changed some of the momentum.”
They didn’t though, and instead, the Redbirds (67-38) took an early lead, hitting Conlon hard.
After a perfect first inning, Conlon gave up a solo blast to Adolis Garcia to lead off the second inning. Later in the inning, he surrendered a two-run bomb to Edmundo Sosa. An inning later, the PCL’s home run leader, Tyler O’Neill, added another two-run blast.
That put the 51s down five runs.
“We were out of the game before we knew it,” DeFrancesco said.
Before his outing was over, Conlon gave up two more runs for seven total in his five innings. He gave up seven hits and walked four in the start.
“He’s got to have a little more endurance. Last year they had to shut him down. He had a little dead arm last year,” DeFrancesco said. “I think this year going up and down (to the Mets), he just doesn’t have the stamina to go out there and throw five to seven quality innings. He just runs out of gas.”
The 51s, meanwhile, couldn’t do much against Memphis starter Jake Woodford, who tossed 5 2/3 innings.
He gave up just one run — a fifth-inning sacrifice fly to Smith — in his outing. The 51s scattered five hits and Woodford walked four but couldn’t string together another run.
“He was working the corners real well. He had a couple different fastballs … sinker, four-seam cutter,” Smith said. “He was working both sides of the plate. He wasn’t missing too much of the plate and it showed tonight. He pitched real well. We weren’t able to get too much going early in the game.”
The 51s did score a pair of runs in the eighth inning on a Jose Lobaton RBI single and a Colton Plaia groundout, but wound up finishing the night 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and leaving 12 men on base. DeFrancesco said his team was overswinging and chasing balls out of the zone.
“I felt like some of our guys felt like if we locked in a little bit more or just took a couple more pitches that we could have just busted the game open,” Smith said. “It’s just part of the game. Sometimes you get in those situations where we’ll have 13 guys out there and we’ll score 10 of them. Tonight was just a night where we had guys in scoring position and we just weren’t able to push the runs across.”