By Brandon Schlager email@example.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — BUFFALO — The Buffalo Bisons opened their three-game home set against the Syracuse Chiefs from a different perspective.
Below .500 for the first time this season following a 3-2 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday, the Herd stumbled further down the International League North standings Saturday, falling 4-3 to the rival Chiefs at Coca-Cola Field.
Buffalo has been hovering around the 50/50 mark — one win here, another loss there — for the past month or so. After starting the season 24-15, the Herd have gone 19-30 since May 16, the last time they held down the division’s top spot.
Now, it seems, they’re a shell of that first-place team of April and May. As the Bisons sit nine games back of division-leading Pawtucket, manager Marty Brown said it’s going to be about consistency, getting everyone healthy and on the same page.
“Everything’s a matter of consistency at this level. The bottom line is you’ve got to come to the ballpark every day and play every day,” Brown said. “... Our biggest problem right now is getting guys on base early and making things happen.”
The Bisons had trouble making things happen early once again and Syracuse jumped out to a 4-0 lead after five innings.
That trend continued until the Herd’s final at-bats. Three outs from being shut out for the sixth time in their last 32 games, Andy LaRoche belted a two-run homerun over the far right field fence to make it 4-2.
And when Syracuse’s Kris Davis replaced Cole Kimball after the homer, a walk and a single set the table for a tense finish when Mike McCoy singled to bring the Herd within a run before Davis struck out Ryan Goins to end the game.
The Bisons bats struggled for the majority of the game against Syracuse starter Ryan Tatusko, whose seven innings of work equaled his longest outing of the year.
Tatusko, who entered the game 1-3 with a 4.10 ERA, surrendered four hits with five punchouts and allowed just six Bison baserunners.
“Gotta give (Tatusko) some credit. He did mix in some sinkers, locating to both sides of the plate,” Brown said. “We weren’t able to make any kind of adjustment to him.
“I think overall we miss the middle of our order, (Mauro) Gomez and (Luis) Jimenez. ... We’ve got to get everybody clicking. The fire that we had the last inning, it was nice.”
The Chiefs were led by Danny Espinosa, who began the season in the majors with the Washington Nationals, and his 3-for-4 performance, which included a run and an RBI.
Buffalo starter Thad Weber lasted seven innings and gave up eight hits and four earned runs with six strikeouts. Weber has made five straight starts of six-plus innings.
Even with the three runs in the final inning, the Bisons have scored just 11 times over 54 July innings. They’ve lost four in a row and nine of their last 13 and entered the weekend batting .161 as a team over six games (1-5) to begin the month, one they’ll desperately need to come out on top of to stay in the IL playoff race.
Lately, it’s been a difficult process to recreate the success that came so easily at the beginning of the season.
“We work hard every day. We don’t change anything,” Brown said. “We’ve got guys that are working. They know we’re in a bit of a lull right now, but it’s about brining your A-game from the first inning on, and that A-game might not be what normally is because everybody’s run down a little bit. But that’s baseball. That’s why you play every day.
Veteran pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, designated for assignment to Buffalo from Toronto on Wednesday, will make his first start for the Herd in Game 2 of a doubleheader this afternoon.
First pitch for Game 1 is set for 1:05 p.m., with the rubbermatch scheduled to begin immediately after to close the three-game series.Follow contributing sports reporter Brandon Schlager on Twitter @B_Schlag.