The Buffalo Bisons closed out their second homestand on Sunday, going 4-1 in the five games played at Coca-Cola Field, with one rainout. The team has a day off on Monday before heading to Norfolk as the IL league leaders.
Here is where the Bisons are at 15 games into the season:
1. Hello first place. The Bisons have been in first place in the International League North Division, whether alone or tied, since their Opening Day on April 8. The Herd leads the IL North by three games over Rochester and 3 1/2 over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They also own the best winning percentage in the league at .733
2. The pitching staff is good and likes to throw strikeouts. The Herd entered Sunday's games with the best earned run average in the league at 2.80. And they've been striking out batters. A lot of batters at once. The team recorded double-digit strikeouts in four of the five games played during the homestand. And while the Bisons have quality pitchers on their staff, they lack a hot, young, fast arm. That makes the collective numbers all the more impressive.
"The only surprise really, and I don't know if it's a surprise because I don't know these guys that well, they throw the ball over the plate and they have confidence in their stuff," Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said. "You see other teams, they just don't have that confidence."
As far as the strikeouts are concerned, Meacham said it all depends on when strikes come in the count and when hitters go after pitches. He gave Sunday starter Brett Oberholtzer as an example. The lefty struck out four batters but pitched to contact to record his outs.
"If they put the ball in the strike zone early, they have a chance" of getting a strikeout, Meacham said. "I think that comes from not being afraid to throw a ball in the strike zone. If you trust your stuff, just like (Oberholtzer) trusts his stuff. He threw it in the strike zone and let everything work, let the defense work and if they were going to chase later in the at-bats he would have gotten strikeouts. But they swung the bats early, put the ball in play and our defense made the play."
3. The Bisons are good with men on base. The Herd came into Sunday's game hitting .322 with runners in scoring position and .304 with runners on base. That dipped after Sunday's 5-4 win, which featured four solo home runs and a 1-for-9 effort with runners in scoring position. But overall, the Herd has been good at the plate when it counts.
"It's absolutely about having a good approach," said Bisons catcher and designated hitter Mike Ohlman. "And the name of the game is scoring runs. You score runs, more often than not you're going to win. So coming up clutch in big situations, two-outs, guys on base, runners in scoring position, that's huge and you're going to win a lot of games that way."
4. Who are the hot hitters? Infielder Jason Leblebijian has hits in seven of his last eight games with a .391 batting average. His 13 runs batted in is tied for first on the club with outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who has hits in four of his last five games with a .333 average. Both have shown consistency and patience at the plate and are the only ones to have played every day for the Herd.
Outfielder Iam Parmley is batting a solid .308 while infielder Christian Lopes is at .273.
But the thing about this Bisons lineup is that hits can come from anywhere, anytime.
"That's what this game is all about is someone picking up the slack for somebody else," Ohlman said. "You pick your teammates up and that's a huge part of the game. It makes everybody feel good. It's absolutely contagious."
5. The Herd is pretty scrappy. After Sunday's win, the team is now 5-1 in one-run games, but had to keep composure in the late innings. The Columbus Clippers rallied back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game, 4-4, in the eighth. Ohlman's solo home run in the bottom of the inning gave the Herd the lead and reliever Murphy Smith turned in an impressive performance to seal the win and earn him his first save.
"It seems like it's somebody new every day, whether it's guys that have been here all season, guys that come up from Double-A ... this is just a team effort and the guys have been playing like this the whole first couple of weeks," Meacham said.