This is one of those litmus-test homestands for the Buffalo Bisons, who have been paper tigers much of the time this season.
The Herd opened a seven-game stay against two of the International League's three division leaders with a messy 8-4 loss to the Indianapolis Indians Monday in Coca-Cola Field. The visitors took over the IL's best record at 26-19, while dropping Buffalo to 23-22.
The Bisons play three against Indy on this stand and four against Rochester, the team they trail by two games in the IL North. Buffalo is 11-5 this year against Lehigh Valley and Toledo, two of the three worst teams in the league. Its record against everybody else is 12-17.
"Our best record is against our own division and we've kind of struggled outside," noted manager Gary Allenson, referring to Buffalo's 12-5 mark within the North. "We've had a little different roster than we had when we started and it's time for some of these guys to step up. We've been swinging the bats a lot better but defensively it has to tighten up there."
The Bisons actually outhit Indy, 13-12, Monday but committed two key errors that produced runs in the second. Three relievers pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings after starter Randy Wolf was shelled for the first time this season, allowing all eight runs over 2 2/3 innings.
"They outplayed us and outhit us tonight," Allenson said. "We scored four runs, probably could have had a few more and we just couldn't get it done."
Four runs is usually a magic number for the Bisons, as Monday's loss dropped them to 16-4 when scoring four or more. Buffalo's plus-38 run differential, however, is heavily bloated by three blowout wins that comprise a plus-32 of that total.
A key moment on the homestand will actually come prior to Tuesday's game against Indy, as center fielder Dalton Pompey will take batting practice for the first time since hyperextending his knee stretching for first base last Tuesday in Columbus. Pompey, batting just .200 in 16 games in Buffalo after being sent down from Toronto, rates as the top Blue Jays prospect in the Buffalo order.
Allenson said Pompey is close to returning, but with Wednesday being a day game and Thursday being an off day, Pompey's likely return to the lineup appears to be Friday night's makeup doubleheader against Rochester.
It's clear the Bisons thought Pompey would only be out a couple of days because he could have gone on the disabled list last Wednesday and returned in seven days. As it is now, it looks like he'll be out 9-10 days before he returns.
"We're probably better off being a little careful with him," Allenson said. "But you hate to do that and three days later he feels great and he's missing four games. That's something you don't want to do ... Just to get him out there as soon as we can get him, when he's 100 percent, is probably the most important thing."