The Tennessee Smokies fell a game and a half out of first place in the Southern League Eastern Division after dropping five of eight games in last weeks home stand.
The Smokies’ defense committed a combined 12-errors in two losses to the Greenville Braves including a season high seven in a 9-4 loss on Thursday night. They followed that woeful performance up with five more miscues in a 7-3 loss on Friday night in front of the largest crowd of the year at Smokies Park.
Tennessee was coming off the split of a four game series to the Carolina Mudcats and still found themselves with a half game lead over then second place Jacksonville, as Greenville came to town for a four game series to finish off the home stand.
The Smokies’ defense, which played an integral part in their nine-game winning streak earlier in the month that had lofted them up to the catbirds seat in the Eastern Division, performed as if they were auditioning for parts in a Bad News Bears sequel during the home stand.
In what may have been their most hapless performance of the season, the Smokies sent 10-game winner Diego Markwell to the mound on Thursday night. Even though the left-hander didn’t come out with his best stuff, the defense behind him didn’t offer much support.
Greenville led 3-1 after four innings and struck for three more in the top of the fifth, hitting for the cycle with a leadoff home run, a triple to the centerfield wall, an RBI single to left field and a double to the left field wall.
Tennessee went down in order in the home half of the inning before Greenville tallied two more runs, with the help of two more Smokies’ errors, which ended Markwell’s night with two outs and a runner at third. Markwell surrendered 12-hits and eight runs but only half of the Braves runs were earned.
Gabe Gross collected two RBI for Tennessee in the later innings and the Braves added another run to finish off the 9-4 win.
A Fireworks Friday crowd of 6,675 fans were on hand for the final game of the series that saw Tennessee commit five more errors in a 7-3 loss, their third in a row.
Nick Green, who hit his team high 12th home run for Greenville on Thursday, paced the Braves at the plate for the second night in a row, going 4-5 with two runs scored.
Gross continued with his hot bat, leading Tennessee, by going 2-4 with a double. Leadoff hitter Rich Thompson was 3-5 with a run.
Tennessee starter Cameron Reimers (3-4) took the loss, giving up three earned runs on nine hits in five innings of work.
Greenville starter Horacio Ramirez (5-5) went five innings to get the win. Jung Bong, one of Atlanta’s top pitching prospects, pitched the final four innings, allowing one-run on four hits to collect his second save.
The Atlanta Brave organization has been excited about Bong’s potential since being signed as a non-drafted free agent at the age of 17 in 1997. Bong was moved from the Greenville starting rotation to the bullpen on June 12th. His save on Friday was the third of his career and second since 1999. He is on the Atlanta Braves 40-man major league roster and is rated as the 10th best prospect in the Brave’s system by Baseball America. Bong made his major league debut at Turner Field on April 22nd against Curt Schilling and the Arizona Diamondbacks, taking the loss by giving up five runs in six innings.
Bong was not needed in the Braves first win of the series on Wednesday night. Greenville scored a 14-5 victory over the Smokies in a rain-shortened game that was stopped after 5 2/3 innings.
The Braves managed 16-hits with every player in the lineup reaching base at least once, and three different players scoring three-runs each. The Braves had 14-singles and scored eight-runs in the fourth inning.
Rouse led the Smokies’ batters going 2-3 with a home run. He drove in all five Tennessee runs. Pete Bauer took the loss, allowing six runs on nine hits in just 3 2/3 innings.
Though the Smokies made the Greenville batters look like future Major League All-Stars, the Braves are not quite ready to play the New York Yankees just yet. Greenville batted just .204 in the month of June and are batting just .246 on the road through 48-games.
Tennessee took their only win of the series last Tuesday night with a 5-4 decision in 10 innings.
Greenville broke a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning when Adam Laroche hit a leadoff double off reliever Scott Wiggins, who then scored on a single by Rusty McNamara.
Tennessee opened the ninth with a leadoff walk by Jimmie Alvarez and Fleming singled him in to tie it up at 4-4.
Hugo Castellanos (3-2) held the Braves scoreless in the top of the tenth before Dominic Rich led off with a single and catcher Jose’ Umbria legged out an infield single. Alvarez was intentionally walked and Rouse bounced the game winning base hit through the infield to score a run.
•The Smokies lost to the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx on Saturday and Sunday to fall two games out of first place. The Smokies, who had lost four games in a row through Sunday, will return home on Thursday for a four game series against Orlando. All four contests will begin at 7:15pm except for Sunday’s matchup, which will get under way at 5pm.