Captains Returning To Earth
After an incredible start, the Captains started returning to Earth during their recent seven game homestand. Lake County went 3-4 against South Bend and Dayton, two of the lesser teams in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League. The homestand included a stretch of 3 straight losses, only the second time this season the Captains had a losing streak of that length.
Some of the difficulties may be due to a recent bout of roster instability. After playing six weeks or so with the same team, the Captains had a large turnover in the pitching staff. Joe Gardner, Rob Bryson, Chris Jones, Cory Burns and Marty Popham got well-deserved promotions to Kinston. Each of these pitchers made major contributions to the Captains terrific start, especially starter Gardner and closer Burns. Captains fans thank these young men for their work and hope their success continues. The team also placed right handed starter Danny Salazar on the disabled list. In a period of about 7 days, the Captains replaced 6 members of a 13 man pitching staff. Under these circumstances, a losing streak would not be surprising.
Actually, though, the pitching, both starting and the bullpen, did a pretty good job during the homestand. In the seven games, the opposition scored a combined total of 28 runs. Except for two games, the starters did a very good job, led by Trey Haley who did a fantastic job on Tuesday. The lanky, right handed 19 year old Texan went 6 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits, while striking out 5 and walking only one. Haley really seems to have turned corner in the month of May. On April 18, after his third start of the year, he owned a 0-0 record, a 6.92 ERA with 6 walks and 5 strikeouts. Since then, Trey has won 4 of his seven starts (with 3 no-decisions), and lowered his ERA by half to 3.48, walked 15 and struck out 31. More importantly, he’s developed real poise on the mound. I saw him pitch several times last year and if things started to go south, he just fell apart. This year, though, he’s hung in and kept his cool. Tuesday night was a great example. After the Captains staked him to 1-0 in the first inning, Haley hit a batter and then threw a wild pitch in the 5th, but he bore down and got the final out of the inning on a infield ground out.
As an aside, the game between Lake County and Dayton on Tuesday, May 25 was one of the best I’ve ever seen in my years of following the Captains. Lake County scored a run in the bottom of the first on a double and two groundouts to take a 1-0 lead. Haley and relievers Francisco Jimenez and Preston Guilmet kept the Dragons scoreless through 8. I love a 1-0 game; the tension builds with each at-bat. Top of the ninth, 2 outs and men on second and first, Dayton OF Cameron Satterwhite smacked a single to right fielder Greg Folgia. Folgia threw a bullet to catcher Roberto Perez on one bounce as the runner from second raced for home. Perez tagged the runner out at the plate to preserve the win for Haley. Best of all, from my seats on the third base side, everything unfolded right in front of me.
Of the remaining starters, Clayton Cook, another 19 year old right handed Texan, gave one of the best performance this season by a Captains starter on Friday, May 21. Cook pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run (earned) while striking out 2 with no walks. Unfortunately, the usually reliable Nick Sariandes gave up a home run to South Bend’s Matt Helm in the top of the tenth, the Captains lost 2-1 and Cook got a no-decision for his effort.
Except for one notable exception, the bullpen continued to be real strength of the team. Newcomer Jeremy Johnson, a 23 year old right hander out of Washington State, appeared in three games in the homestand. The Indians 13th round draft pick in 2009 pitched 4 innings, gave up one run, 2 hits, struck out 6 and walked none. Johnson won 2 of the 4 victories during the homestand and now sports a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA. Of the other new relievers, Preston Guilmet, Tyler Sturdevant and Jose Flores gave good accountings of themselves. Vidal Nuno, on the other hand, had a difficult Captains debut on Monday, May 24 against South Bend. Nuno entered the game in relief of Austin Adams in the 5th inning of a scoreless game. In 2 2/3 innings, Nuno gave up 9 hits, 6 runs, all earned and one strike out. At least he didn‘t walk anyone. This wasted an outstanding effort by Adams, who gave only one hit, no walks and 4 strikeouts in his 4 innings of work.
A major concern for the pitching staff remains the gopher ball. The Captains hurlers have given up 38 dingers so far this year to lead the Midwest League. Peoria, in second place, has given up 32 home runs. Great Lakes, the team chasing the Captains in the Eastern Division, has given up only 18 round-trippers. During the seven game homestand, Lake County pitchers surrendered a combined 6 homers to South Bend and Dayton.
But the real problem has been the offense. Bo Greenwell, the offensive engine for most of the season, really started to cool off (at least for him) during the homestand. In the 7 games at home, Bo batted .280, hitting only singles, and only garnering 1 RBI. Delvi Cid continued to struggle at the plate. Cid, not a power hitter by any means, struck out 4 times in the 5 games he played. He leads the team with 45 strikeouts, while walking only 10 times. (In comparison, home run leader Jeremie Tice struck out 31 times) For the season, Cid owns a very inadequate .196 BA with an OPS of .470. Cid’s performance is the most disappointing of the season thus far. But, every cloud has its silver lining, and Cid leads the team with 20 stolen bases so far with four of them during the homestand while being caught only twice.
Casey Frawley cooled off during the homestand, batting .107 for the period. That lowered his season batting average to .278 and OPS of .804. Frawley’s hot start exceeded expectations; manger Ted Kubiak used him at different positions to get his bat into the line-up. Perhaps he’s coming back to normal. On the other hand, infielder Kyle Smith got hot in the five games he played. In 18 at-bats, Smith smacked 7 hits, batting .389 for the period.
Power, or the lack thereof, continues to be a concern. Jeremie Tice had two homeruns on Thursday against Dayton to take the team lead with 5. Those were the only homeruns during the 7 game homestand. Overall, the Captains have slugged 27 homers in 46 games, good for 6th place in the Midwest League. The Captains main rival, Great Lakes, has smacked 43 dingers.
The wonderfully named Chun Chen continues to pleasantly surprise. The catcher/DH actually passed Greenwell in hitting, batting.440 for the homestand to raise his season average to .336. Chen is another player exceeding expectations. Kubiak, wanting to utilize the Taiwan native’s hot bat, often pencils in Chen at DH on non-catching days.
Despite the 3-4 homestand, as of Thursday night, the Captains still lead the Eastern Division of the Midwest League with a 32-16 record. That’s a .667 winning percentage and puts them 3 games ahead of second place Great Lakes Loons. I think fans of just about any team would be happy with that. The Captains are currently in Midland, MI and in the midst of a 4 game series against the Loons.
NOTE: On Friday night, Lake County lost the first game of the series against the Loons 2-1 and now lead Great Lakes by 2 games.
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.