Captains off to slower start in the second half
After having five players named to the All-Star game, the Captains opened the second half on the road in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan with a three games series against the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Detroit farm team. Lake County also opened the first half against West Michigan and history repeated itself, as the Captains swept the 3 game series. At that point it looked like the Captains hadn’t missed a beat. Since then, though, Lake County has won only three out of eight games, including a 2-4 homestand. The Captains are now 6-5 in the second half, though have not fallen below .500 at any time this season.
Although the team turned over about 50% of the pitching staff during the first half, the position players remained stable, with only one change due to an inury to outfielder Jason Smit. All of that has changed since the break as the Captains started the second half by waving good-bye to two of their best players, outfielder Bo Greenwell and right handed starting pitcher Austin Adams, as both received promotions to Kinston. A few days later, infielder Jeremie Tice and catcher Chun Chen got the call to Kinston. Captains’ fans thank these young men for their terrific efforts and wish them the best.
In their place the Indians assigned outfielder Trent Baker, outfielder Tim Palincsar, first baseman Chris Kersten and catcher Dwight Childs to the Captains, and they also welcomed back starting right hander Trey Haley (more about Haley later). Baker joins fellow Australian Jason Smit to give the Captains two players from Down Under. Kersten briefly played with the Captains in April when Smit went on the disabled list.
In the first half, despite their outstanding record, the Captains offense was middle of the road at best, and with the loss of their offensive engines in Greenwell, Chen and Tice, they’ll need others to step up. So far, infielder Adam Abraham has come through as in the second half the University of Michigan product has raised his batting average from .182 to .223. During this ten game stretch, Abraham’s batting .386 with a 1.032 OPS, two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI. During the period he’s struck out only twice in 36 at-bats. Recognizing Abraham’s improvement, Manager Ted Kubiak recently moved him into either the 3rd or 4th spot in the batting order.
Centerfielder Delvi Cid’s bat has also come alive in the second half, raising his average from .213 to .229 and so far in the second half is hitting .333/.807. Actually, Cid has been on tear since June 1, when his .188 average and overall struggles convinced the Indians to end (at least temporarily) an attempt to make him a switch hitter. Cid has also cut down on the strikeouts and is working on his plate discipline, at least in walks. In the first half, Cid walked 15 times in 62 games, or about once every 4 games. Thus far in the second half, he’s walked 4 times in 10 games, or once every 2 and a half games. He’s had a modest improvement in strikeouts, improving from 1 every game ( 62 strikeouts/61 games) to one strikeout every 1.2 games ( 8 strikeouts/10 games.) As the usual lead-off hitter, the Captains need Cid to continue to get on base, and once on base he’s a terror stealing 32 bases while being caught only 5 times.
As in the first half, the Captains won with excellent pitching. The team gave up a total of one run in the opening series against West Michigan, including 2 consecutive shutouts. Except for a couple of games, the pitching remained strong at the start of the second half. Right handed starter Clayton Cook has had three great performances to start off the second half. With the departure of Adams and the trials and tribulations of Trey Haley, Cook is rapidly becoming one of the mainstays for Lake County. In the three games he has started, the 19 year old from Amarillo, Texas has thrown 17.0 innings, giving up 3 earned runs, 12 hits, striking out 16 while walking only 4. For the season, Cook is 4-4, 3.51 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 25 walks and the league is batting .252 against him. The Tribe drafted Cook in the 9th round of the 2008 draft as a 17 year old, so he’s still rather raw. While he played at Mahoning Valley last year, this is his first full season in professional baseball, so we will see how he holds up as the year drags on.
The other standout starting pitcher is somewhat of a surprise, that being Matt Packer, the 22 year old left handed product of the University of Virginia. Packer pitched a gem on June 26th in West Michigan going 5 innings and allowing no runs, 5 hits, with 9 strikeouts and one walk to get the win. Packer started in the bullpen and joined the rotation in mid May, and since he became a regular starter has gone 4-2 and really only had one bad outing on May 23rd against Bowling Green where he gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in 3 innings pitched. Overall, Packer is 6-3 with a 1.88 ERA, 55 strikeouts and only 7 walks and has given up only 3 home runs (considering the number of homeruns given up Captains staff, that’s an impressive stat).
Vidal Nuno, the left hander from Baker University in Kansas, continues his see-saw ways. In his first start of the second half, Nuno gave up 5 earned runs in 4.2 innings against Great Lakes. In his second start, this time against West Michigan, he was nearly flawless as he gave up no runs and only 2 hits in 5 innings, striking out 5 and walking only 1. For the season, Nuno has pitched in 8 games (6 starts) going 3-2 with a 5.51 ERA, giving up 3 home runs (none his last 3 games), while walking 5 and striking out 38 in 32.2 innings.
Now we come to Trey Haley. The Indians drafted the right handed Haley directly out of high school in the second round of 2008, and is thought of as a high level prospect. Earlier in the season it look like Haley had turned the corner, as chronicled on this site. He even got picked for the Midwest League All Star game. Then he had a terrible game in a June 10 loss at Clinton, giving up 9 earned runs and 8 hits in 2 innings. He didn’t start another game prior to the end of the first half and skipped the All Star game. Reports indicate that he suffered an arm injury that he kept quiet.
Trey returned on June 29 to start a home game against Great Lakes and things did not go well. He gave up 4 earned runs in 3 innings and took the loss, but Haley started on July 4 in Lansing and showed great improvement. He went 4.1 innings and gave up 1 earned run on a solo home run and got a no decision. For the second half, Haley is 0-1 6.14 ERA with 5 strikeouts and 4 walks in 7.1 innings and the league is batting .321 against him. The lanky Texan looks like he’s starting to fill out his 6’3” frame and everyone hopes he returns to his May form.
With the departures of the Captains’ offensive leaders, the pitching staff needs to continue its fine work. For the season the staff is third in the league with a 3.50 ERA and second in the league with a 1.21 WHIP. The major concern continues to be the gopher ball. Lake County pitchers have given up 58 dingers for the season, 9 in the last 6 games, putting them second in the league. Their main Eastern Division rivals, Great Lakes and Lansing, have given up 39 and 38 homers respectively. On the other hand, three of the five wins so far in the second half have been shutouts, including two in a row in West Michigan.
There is some thought that the Captains’ record in the second half doesn’t matter. They’ve already made the Midwest League playoffs and a first or second place finish in the second half means nothing as the league would just plug the third place finisher into the playoffs. That said, winning the second half would be quite an accomplishment and would duplicate the 2003 Captains who won both halves of the South Atlantic League (SAL) Northern Division. Winning is winning and that’s always a good thing.
Terry Evitts, a management consultant and baseball historian, is a life-long resident of Lake County. He follows the Captains for IPI and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org