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Nearly 6800 fans pack the infield of Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch the Duel at the DBAP between NC State and UNC. NC State never trailed on the way to a 8-3 win on Tuesday, April 17.

The Durham Bulls, the triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, stand at 36-26 midway through the minor league season. The Bulls are first place in their division, the International League South, right ahead of the other triple-A team in North Carolina, the Charlotte Knights. The Knights are the triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

The Bulls are in somewhat of a downswing, having gone 5-5 in their last ten games. However, the Bulls are actually a better team on the road than at home. The team is 21-11 in away games, while only a mediocre 15-15 at home, which is an unusual number.

The next three series the Bulls will partake in are against the Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit Tigers) and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (New York Yankees) at home and then an away series at the Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox). The only team they face with a winning record is the RailRiders, who lead the North division with a record of 36-25.

Each of these teams is at, or below, the skill level of the Bulls, meaning that the Bulls should definitely be able to take advantage of the situation. This also means, however, that the Bulls will need to handle business at home, seeing as their biggest competition in these next three series, the RailRiders, play them at home.

Of the players on the Bulls, 11 on the roster are also on the 40-man roster for the Rays. This includes pitchers Jake Faria, Brent Honeywell Jr., Austin Pruitt, Casey Sadler and Hunter Wood, catchers Nick Ciuffo and Michael Perez, infielders Nate Lowe, Andrew Valazquez and Joey Wendle, and outfielder Joe McCarthy.

Of these players, a few are on rehab assignments for recovery, including Wendle and Perez.

As a team, the Bulls have the second-best batting average in the league, behind the RailRiders. Their on-base percentage of .358 ranks first in the league, while their slug percentage ranks fifth and their OPS ranks third.

The best hitter on the team is likely Jake Cronenworth, who has a slash line of .353/.438/.526 with a .963 OPS. However, Cronenworth is not in the top-30 prospect rankings for the Rays just yet. Leading the team in home runs is Michael Brosseau, who has 12 home runs, but his efficiency is just slightly under Cronenworth.

Nate Lowe is the highest-ranking non-pitcher playing for the Bulls, coming in at number eight on the top-30 listings. He bats a .267/.399/.430 line and has four home runs on the year.

While the team’s pitching is not as good as its hitting, the Bulls pitching staff leads the league in strikeouts with 587. However, their ERA of 4.81 ranks in the middle of the road and they have given up the fifth-most amount of home runs in the league.

The team’s most used pitcher is Aaron Slegers, who has a poor 6.80 ERA while leading the team in innings pitched, at 43.2. He has the fourteenth most strikeouts on the team, right behind Mike Franco and Austin Pruitt, who combined have pitched about the same number of innings. He also has given up the second-most home runs of anyone on the roster. If the Bulls hope to make it to the postseason as a real threat, they will need to upgrade their pitching, as only one pitcher in their seven most-used, has an ERA under three. Only four have an ERA under five.

Brendan McKay, the third-ranked prospect on the Rays top 30, has played for the Rays and has pitched 15 innings. McKay has the best ERA on the team, at 1.80, for players pitching ten innings or more. McKay also had 14 strikeouts and only allowed three runs in his appearances, but he has only played in a few games and 15 innings is a limited count, so his numbers are somewhat inflated.

Honeywell, another pitcher, ranks No. 2 on the Rays prospect listings but has not yet appeared in a game for the Bulls, as he recovers from injury.

All of these prospects will get more of a chance to prove themselves as their season continues. The Bulls won the division last season, so it will be interesting to see if they can maintain that stranglehold on the division.

The Bulls’ season continues as they take a quick pit stop on the way home from their series against the Gwinnett Stripers to take on a pivotal game against the Knights. After these two quick games, the Bulls will begin the series versus Toledo on June 11 at 7:05 p.m. at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.