CLINTON — Manager Scott Steinmann is hoping the Clinton LumberKings will play in the second half of the Midwest League season the way they finished the first half rather than the way played much of the time during the 26-43 campaign.
The LumberKings entered the three-day All-Star break with a 3-3 homestand, playing competitively in all six games against Quad-Cities and Cedar Rapids, two of the league’s three best teams in the first half.
A couple of things are certain, though, as the LumberKings prepare to open the second half of the season tonight at Wisconsin: Every team is 0-0 in the standings, and the LumberKings don’t have to worry about the River Bandits or Kernels in the second half.
“Going into the next half, we start fresh. We start 0-0,” Steinmann said. “I’ll probably even post the standings at 0-0 and everybody’s got a chance, and we’ve got just as good a chance as anybody.”
And, Clinton is battling only six teams for one of the two remaining playoff spots from the Western Division. Since Quad-Cities and Cedar Rapids qualified for the postseason by finishing first and second in the division in the first half, their records are meaningless for the 70 games of the second half.
“They don’t count in the standings at all, so I’ll explain that to them, so they have an idea about how to play games and what the standings really mean so they get used to professional baseball,” Steinmann said.
One key for the second half is to play more consistently. The various aspects of a good team have shown at times, but putting everything together at one time has been a problem. The LumberKings finished the first half with the second-worst team earned-run average in the league (4.31), and they were 14th out of 16 teams in batting average (.237), 13th in home runs (26) and 12th in runs scored (278).
“We haven’t been able to put 10 to 15 starts in a row together, but there have been stretches,” Steinmann said of his starting pitchers. “(For the bullpen, there have been) moments where we have done really well and moments when we’ve been just one pitch poor.
“I think there’s more in the tank,” he said of the offense. “I think we’re starting to see what we can be with an offense, so I’m definitely excited about this second half as it continues to get warm and these guys get more at-bats under their belts.”
The makeup of the team has changed a lot since opening day. For instance, Alex Jackson, Seattle’s first-round draft pick last year, struggled at the plate and was sent down after batting just .157 in 28 games. On the other hand, one of the better hitters, Nelson Ward, was promoted after batting .270 with seven triples in 46 games.
Steinmann said there were pleasant surprises in the field and on the mound, too.
Wayne (Taylor), behind the plate, has a done a really good job,” he said. “Jarrett Brown, on the mound, has had moments of brilliance, and I can go on and on. A lot of guys have shown flashes of brilliance of what they’re going to be down the road, so I’m definitely pleased with a lot of guys on this team.”
He hopes to be even happier when the second half is over. But, 70 more games is a long stretch since many of the players haven’t been exposed to a full season (140 games) in their careers. That means second-year LumberKings such as Chantz Mack and Joe DeCarlo could play even more important leadership roles.
“A lot of is that how to prepare themselves throughout the second half, how to take a plan of attack that we do in our meetings and how to put that out there and how they need to be the leaders of that because they’ve gone through it before,” Steinmann said. “Also, how to prepare themselves in the cage, how not to overwork but still get their work in.”