Wait until next half.
Fortunately for the Clinton LumberKings, the wait is only eight days and not an entire offseason. With Wednesday night’s 7-2 loss to Wisconsin at Alliant Energy Field, the LumberKings (35-30) were mathematically eliminated from Midwest League playoff contention for the first half. Quad Cities (39-26), despite an 8-2 home loss to Kane County, clinched second place by virtue of being four games up with four to play, plus having the tiebreaker on Clinton in terms of head-to-head victories.
“The good part about it is that we have the All-Star break. We’re going to get rested, get rejuvenated and get back at it in the second half,” Clinton manager John Tamargo said. “Hopefully, we’ll figure out how to get ourselves cranked up. We’re sitting back waiting for things to happen, and we have to take it to somebody else.
“We’ve lived on that three-run home run, and we can’t rest on it.”
The LumberKings struck first via a walk, a bad throw from Wisconsin center fielder D’Vontrey Richardson and an RBI base hit from Tim Morris to go up 1-0 after one inning, but that was the last run Clinton would get until a pair of doubles from Wellington Dotel and Matt Cerione put another up in the ninth.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin (24-41) looked nothing like a team that entered Wednesday’s game 18 games under .500, steadily pushing its way into the lead against Clinton starter Jimmy Gillheeney (4-5), with a run on two base hits and a walk in the third, a double and two sacrifice bunts (the second an effective squeeze) in the fifth, and a walk, hit batsman and two infield outs in the sixth.
“Sometimes we’re getting into situations where we don’t trust our stuff, instead of going after guys with our best stuff. That happens occasionally, but Jimmy, I thought, pitched pretty good,” Tamargo said. “He got a double play and we didn’t turn it (in the sixth), and he had a couple of borderline pitches not go his way.”
Reliever Daniel Cooper got Gillheeney off the hook in the seventh without any runs scoring but took a bit of a beating in the eighth, giving up four earned runs. As a group, the four Clinton pitchers who saw action — Chris Kirkland (eighth inning) and Taylor Lewis (ninth) — combined for eight walks.
At the same time, the Kings’ bats struggled against four Wisconsin pitchers, each of whom seemed to bring a different weapon to the table. Starter Jake Odorizzi threw consistent strikes with a slower pace and delivery, and relievers Santo Manzanillo, Jeremy Jeffress and Andy Sauter all had live arms, leading to 12 LumberKing strikeouts, an all-too-familiar statistic.
“Jeffress — he was in AA and shouldn’t really be here, but there’s a reason he’s here — he can throw 100 miles an hour,” Tamargo said of Milwaukee’s 2006 first-round draft pick who struck out five Clinton hitters in his two-inning stint.
And the combination of speeds and the consistency of strikes proved to be too much, as Clinton had trouble stringing together any kind of sustained rallies. Defense was the only bright light, particularly that of shortstop Nick Franklin, who found himself on the rare end of a 1-6 double play without a single throw on the play, and who threw out Timber Rattler second baseman Kyle Dhanani at home in the seventh.
“We’re waiting for bad things to happen, and they do happen, instead of being aggressive. We can’t bunch any hits together. We’ve got to get back to basics: competing at home plate, putting things together,” Tamargo said. “We’re competing; we’ve just got to get it together. We can’t have one guy get hot at a time. We’ve got to get two or three guys hot at the same time.”
Clinton concludes the series with Wisconsin tonight at 7 at Alliant, with All-Star Erasmo Ramirez (5-2, 2.43 ERA) taking the hill for the LumberKings. Wisconsin will counter with Del Howell (0-2, 6.68). The LumberKings will then go on the road Friday for a first-half-ending three-game series at Beloit, followed by next week’s All-Star Game in Fort Wayne, Ind. Clinton will open the second half at home on June 25, again against Beloit.