Three weeks ago, the Everett AquaSox held a relatively comfortable 7.5-game lead atop the High-A West.
That lead is all but gone now.
After a scorching first three months of the season, the AquaSox lost their third consecutive series this past week, dropping five of seven games to the Eugene Emeralds on the road at PK Park.
Everett (56-39) is now in a virtual tie with Eugene (57-40) atop the six-team High-A West, clinging to a lead of just .001 percentage points over the Emeralds.
Prior to their recent skid, the AquaSox had spent most of the season dominating the High-A West with a roster chock-full of talented prospects. Three weeks ago, they were 51-26 and had lost just two of their 13 series this year.
But as the season progressed, most of Everett’s top players got promoted. A whopping 14 players from the AquaSox’s season-opening roster have been called up to Double-A Arkansas this year — including 12 players over the past six weeks and eight players over the past four weeks.
And in the wake of the mass exodus of prospects, Everett is in a downhill slide. Over their past three series, the AquaSox are just 5-13.
Everett’s pitchers had another rough series this past week, posting a combined 6.05 earned-run average in the seven games against Eugene. Since the start of August, the AquaSox pitching staff has a league-worst 7.34 ERA. Everett also struggled at the plate in this past series, batting just .220.
With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the AquaSox are in a virtual tie with Eugene atop the High-A West. Both teams are five games ahead of the third-place Spokane Indians.
The top two teams at the end of the regular season will square off in a best-of-five championship series for the High-A West title.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
This past series against Eugene was tightly contested. Six of the seven games were decided by two runs or fewer, including three one-run contests.
Everett had two particularly tough losses. The AquaSox opened the series last Tuesday by blowing a 7-0 lead in a 10-9 defeat. And on Friday, they lost 8-7 on a walkoff solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Here are some players who stood out for Everett in this past week’s series:
Jimmy Joyce: The 22-year-old right-hander started the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader and pitched five strong innings in his AquaSox debut. Joyce, a 16th-round pick out of Hofstra University in this year’s MLB draft, struck out eight of the 18 batters he faced. He allowed no earned runs, one unearned run, two hits and one walk. He was promoted to Everett earlier in the week after beginning his professional career with two starts in the rookie-level Arizona Complex League.
Connor Hoover: The 25-year-old infielder had another big week at the plate, going 9-for-27 with two home runs, two triples and two doubles. It’s been a massive turnaround for Hoover, who batted a combined .148 in May and June before hitting .295 in July and .359 in August. He has raised his season batting average to .243 and has 14 homers, four triples and 20 doubles this year.
Cade Marlowe: The 24-year-old outfielder was 7-for-25 with two home runs in the series. Since being promoted to Everett in mid-June, Marlowe is hitting .248 with 10 homers, four triples and 16 doubles in 49 games.
Justin Lavey: After struggling through a hitless 0-for-16 series the previous week, the 23-year-old infielder rebounded by going 5-for-20 with three home runs and a triple in this past week’s series. Since being promoted to the AquaSox in late July, Lavey has batted .192 with four homers, one triple and two doubles in 21 games.
Ben Onyshko: The 24-year-old left-handed reliever tossed three scoreless innings of no-hit ball last Friday, while striking out five batters and walking one. It was an encouraging performance for Onyshko, who had struggled over the past month or so. He has a 4.60 ERA in 29 1/3 innings with Everett this season, along with 43 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Fred Villarreal: The 23-year-old right-hander pitched four scoreless innings in two relief appearances this past week. He struck out six batters over that span, while allowing two hits and two walks. He has a 2.52 ERA in 39 1/3 innings with the AquaSox this season, along with 44 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Everett returns to Funko Field for a 13-game homestand. The AquaSox host third-place Spokane this week in a seven-game series that runs Tuesday through Sunday, with the teams slated to play a doubleheader Friday. The following week, Everett hosts the fourth-place Vancouver Canadians in a six-game series from Aug. 31 through Sept. 5.