Beavers return from road trip second in PCL

Returning to Portland following a successful eight-game road trip, the Beavers now sit only a half-game behind the Salt Lake Bees for first place in the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific North division.

At 27-19 on the year, Portland has received improved pitching from its starting staff and relievers as of late.

Despite the call-up of star reliever Jon Adkins to the San Diego Padres, the Beavers have been able to rely on reliever Brian Sikorski (3.25 ERA, 21 games) and starter Eric Junge (4-3, 4.46 ERA, 36 strikeouts).

Relief pitcher Erick Burke has also come up big for Portland. Burke is 3-0 with a 1.93 in 18 games.

The same theme stands out at the plate for the Beavers. The call-up of first baseman Paul McAnulty to the Padres hasn’t taken the sting out of Portland’s bats. Third baseman Justin Leone has remained hot as well. Leone is hitting .313 with 10 home runs, 38 RBIs and a .580 slugging percentage.

Meanwhile, left fielder Terrmel Sledge has finally begun to find his stroke. Sledge raised his average from a paltry .212 to .244 during the road trip. He also hit two homers and knocked in six runs during that period.

Outfielders Ben Johnson (.355 in nine games), Jack Cust (.273, nine home runs, 26 RBIs) and Jon Knott (.246, 11 home runs, 27 RBIs) have found their grooves as well.

The Beavers’ recent play against the Nashville Sounds was perhaps their best of the season. Mixing strong pitching with timely hitting, Portland gained a momentary lead of the PCL with their 5-4 win over the Sounds on Tuesday.

And despite falling 1-0 to the Sounds on Wednesday, the Beavers received an excellent outing from pitcher Tim Stauffer (2-4). Stauffer gave up one unearned run and five hits in six innings.

Pitching will be the key for Portland all season long. The Beavers are currently ranked 12th out of the 16 teams in the PCL in team ERA. Portland has also given up the second-most home runs (46).

And during the Beavers’ last homestand, manager Craig Colbert declared, “Pitching is going to be the main thing for us all year. We know we can hit. We get our fair share of long balls. But we’ve got to be able to shut the other teams down.”

With the strong road trip, Portland has now upped its road record to a PCL-best 14-7.

The Beavers will play Sacramento this Friday at PGE Park at 7:05 p.m. They will be in town through June 2.