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Burlington Royals: The Best in the League

The Burlington Royals open a three game series with the Greenville Astros tonight at Burlington.  As I begin to type, the Royals have a 9-3 lead in the bottom of the 7th, well on their way to what will be their seventh straight win.  The Royals took first place from the Danville Braves last week, on the strength of a 4-game sweep over the Braves, who had the best record in the entire league.  That honor now belongs to the Royals, who have also won 11 of their last 12 games.

The main focus of Burlington in the pre-season had been the arrival of outfielder Bubba Starling, the Royals 2011 first round (fifth overall) draft pick, and Bubba has not disappointed.  Starting off the season with a hamstring injury, Starling has been getting better every week, going into tonight’s game as the team’s leader in batting average with .292 and on-base percentage with .425.  He hasn’t been doing it by himself though; he’s been getting help from some previous Royals draft picks, including this year’s seventh round pick, Fred Ford.  Ford got off to a rocky start, but has been a big part of the Royals winning ways by hitting .306 with six homers in his last ten games.  Last year’s 20th round pick Terrance Gore has been igniting the offense all season, hitting .284 and swiping 14 bases in just 25 games, good for second in the league.

Terrance Gore has been deadly on the base paths this season.

Let’s not give all the credit to the offense however, as Burlington’s pitchers have been excellent, from starting rotation to bullpen.  The rotation is highlighted by Daniel Hernandez, who missed the entire 2011 season due to elbow surgery, and 18-year-old Colin Rodgers, who was the Royals 3rd round pick this year.  Hernandez is 2-0 through 6 starts with a 2.23 ERA, and has pitched at least five innings in all of his starts thus far.  Rodgers has been nothing short of phenomenal this year, with a 2-0 record an a microscopic 0.92 ERA, giving up just 8 hits in 19 innings pitched this year.  If he keeps this pace up, one can only wonder what level of the minors he’ll end up in at season’s end.  The bullpen has been just as spectacular this year, with former Penn State starter John Walter taking over the closer role.  Walter was selected in the 29th round by the Royals this year and has proven to be a huge steal, with a 3-0 record and four saves in nine games, including 16 strikeouts in 11 innings pitched.

As I previously stated, the Royals were winning in the bottom of the 7th when I began writing, and I am pleased to report that they have indeed won their seventh straight.  Terrance Gore went 3-4 with three runs scored and for now, has tied the lead league with his fifteenth stolen base, and Patrick Conroy picked up his first save of the season, pitching four shutout innings in relief of starter Jake Junis, who picked up his first win of the season.  That makes Burlington 21-8 on the season, and this team is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.

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