It was the middle of July, just after the All-Star break and the Buffalo Bisons were at their lowest point of the season.
Swept in four games at Pawtucket, the Herd were on a seven-game losing streak and fell 11 games out of the International League North Division race.
What a difference a month makes.
The Bisons have surged, thanks to some additions to the offense and an impressive starting rotation. The offense picked up the bullpen Friday night as they earned an 11-7 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
The win puts the Herd 10 games over .500 (71-61) for the first time this season. The last time the Bisons were 10 games over was May 13, 2013 (23-13).
More importantly the win is combined with a Pawtucket loss, putting the Bisons just two games back of the PawSox in the hunt for the lone IL Wild Card spot. The teams open up a crucial four-games series at Coca-Cola Field tonight (7:05 p.m., TWCS, Radio 1520 AM) that could determine the fate of the Wild Card.
“It’s definitely exciting,” outfielder Kevin Pillar said. “I think we’re going to treat it like a playoff game. We realize that worst-case scenario we’ve got to win the series to gain some ground on them. Especially in a four-game series. You’ve got to aim to win three games and gain a little bit of ground on them.
“It’s the way this team has been playing, we have the capability of getting hot and not a lot’s gonna stand in our way when we’re hot.”
Pillar has been one of the hottest hitters in the league this season. The slugger has had two promotions to Toronto but spent most of the season with the Bisons. He had a 21-game hit streak and has hit in 34 of 37 games since July. 8.
He has missed the last four games, however, after getting a cut on his elbow when the team had a scheduled off day on Monday.
“I fell on a rock. Split my elbow. Lesson learned. I won’t be doing activities like that any more on an off day,” Pillar said.
The Bisons are ready for a healthy Pillar to add more punch to their lineup, although the lineup displayed some pretty good kick in front of 16,252 Friday.
The Herd scored five runs in the third to take a 5-1 lead. The RailRiders rallied, tying the game, 6-6, but the Bisons responded with another five-run inning in the seventh to secure the win.
The team punched out a season-best seven extra-base hits, including a pair of doubles from Matt Hague, which scored three runs, a two-run triple from Anthony Gose and a home run by George Kottaras.
“Got some key hits with guys on base. That’s at times what’s been lacking,” manager Gary Allenson said. “Down the stretch with 12 to play, hopefully it’s contagious.”
It will be a tall order for the Herd’s offense. Before Friday’s games, the Bisons were tied with Pawtucket for the best ERA in the league with a 3.47.
The PawSox have Anthony Ranaudo, scheduled to start on Sunday afternoon. The righty leads the league in wins with his 14-4 record and has a 2.46 ERA. The No. 5 prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization, the 24-year old has made two Major League starts, winning both of them.
Tonight’s matchup features righty Kendall Graveman for the Herd against lefty Edwin Escobar. Graveman (1-2, 1.04) has been impressive as the 22-year old has made his Triple A debut this month.
Sean Nolin (4-5, 3.45 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Herd on Sunday while Monday’s matchup is scheduled to be lefty Brad Mills (1-0, 3.10) and righty Matt Barnes (7-8, 3.89).
Daniel Norris, who was expected to move into the bullpen after he own his third straight Triple A start on Thursday, was told he will be the starter on Tuesday for the last regular season home game of the season.