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Bees at mid-season

Kendrick, Saunders have led Salt Lake to a division lead

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Salt Lake's Howie Kendrick makes the out at second and throws to first to complete a double play in a June game.

Salt Lake’s Howie Kendrick makes the out at second and throws to first to complete a double play in a June game.

Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News

With the Triple-A All-Star Game one week away, it's the unofficial midway point of the season for the Salt Lake Bees. The final-stretch drive will begin in full when the team returns from the All-Star break on July 13 and heads out on an eight-game trip to Sacramento and Fresno.

The Bees have now played 84 games — with just 60 remaining in the 144-game Pacific Coast League regular season. Despite many roster moves — as players have been shuttled back and forth all season between Salt Lake City and Anaheim, the home of the parent Los Angeles Angels — the Bees are alone in first place in the Northern Division of the Pacific Conference.

"It goes back to the character of these guys," said Bees manager Brian Harper. "These are character guys. They work hard and they play hard and they come out every day with the attitude that they are going to work hard to try to win. It's a special team."

Here's a look at some of the team's highs and lows so far this season:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Howie Kendrick, second baseman.

To put Kendrick's amazing season in perspective, during a recent 10-game stretch he hit .333 with three homers, eight RBIs and eight runs scored — and his batting average dropped nearly 10 percentage points.

Kendrick was actually hitting better than .400 for the season in early June. He's still leading the PCL with a .386 batting average. He also has 13 homers, 57 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 63 games with the Bees. His numbers for the Bees would be even more impressive if he hadn't spent three weeks with the parent Angels in late April and early May.

"(Kendrick) is the best hitter in the minor leagues," Harper said during a recent road trip to Colorado Springs. "I played with Kirby (Puckett) for seven years and Howie is a lot like Kirby. He doesn't walk a lot; he goes up there swinging. He hits a lot of bad pitches hard. I can't imagine him not playing in the major leagues next year."

Kendrick, a potential major league All-Star, will play in two minor-league classics this week. He was selected to play in both the All-Star Futures Game in Pittsburgh on Friday and the Triple-A All-Star Game in Toledo, Ohio, on July 12.


Jered Weaver has been outstanding for the Bees this season — he was 6-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 12 starts before recently being recalled by the Angels, where he won each of his first four starts earlier this year.

But Saunders, since he's been with the Bees all season, gets the slight nod as the team's top pitcher to this point. The left-hander became the PCL's first 10-game winner of the year on Thursday. He's 10-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts — including a complete-game shutout.

"Last year I had a high four-something ERA (for the Stingers)," said Saunders. "I heard that was pretty respectable in this league. But my standards are higher than that. This year the goal was to get it into the threes."

And he's even been better than his goal. For his success, Saunders has also been selected to play in the Triple-A All-Star Game.

WORST STRETCH: The Bees got swept in four games at Tucson, June 8-11. One of the games went into extra innings, and three of the losses were by one run. The Bees then returned home to Franklin Covey Field where they had last year's American League Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon pitching for them in a rehab assignment — and they lost again, this time to Fresno. The five-game losing streak dropped them to 34-29 on June 12.

BEST STRETCH: The losing streak, however, was followed by the best winning streak of the year. From June 13 to June 19, the Bees won nine consecutive games — including a doubleheader sweep of Las Vegas on June 17. Suddenly the team was 43-29 and leading the division by six games. The Bees have cooled off since then — basically playing .500 ball — but they had built up enough of a cushion to hold off hard-charging Tacoma for the division lead, at least for the time being.


It's never a good sign when a team has more blown saves (17) than actual saves (13). While the Bees starters have been outstanding, it's been hit-and-miss once it's gotten to the relievers.

"I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't a concern," Harper said after one of his team's recent blown saves, "but I also believe that we have guys in the bullpen that can do the job."

BIGGEST STRENGTH: (tie) team hitting and starting pitching.

Led by Kendrick (.386), veteran Curtis Pride (.340) and Tommy Murphy (.331 — although he is now with the Angels), the Bees lead the PCL with a .292 team batting average. Salt Lake has also scored 29 more runs (through Sunday) than the next closest team in the league.

Meanwhile, the starting pitching for the Bees has been outstanding, for the most part. In addition to Saunders and Weaver — both Triple-A All-Stars — Dustin Moseley (8-3, 3.14 ERA), Steven Shell (3.91 ERA) and Kasey Olenberger (4-1, 4.80 ERA) have been successful. They have combined for five complete games, and the Bees have eight shutouts already. Salt Lake's franchise record for shutouts is 10 set back in 1998 — a record that appears to be in jeopardy this season.

PROSPECTS FOR DIVISION TITLE: Good. While things could change instantly if the Angels continue to raid their roster, the Bees still have outstanding starting pitchers and quality hitters and should be be in every game. The Bees have been the best home team in the PCL this season and with 32 home games remaining, they should be able to continue to win at about a 60 percent rate overall. That will likely be good enough to get them to the playoffs.

E-mail: lojo@desnews.com