The LumberKings couldn’t do much worse in the second half of the season than they did in the first.
Midway through the season, Clinton had the worst record in the Midwest League, but the second half has been a very different story for the LumberKings.
Clinton clinched a playoff berth Sunday and is leading Kane County by three games with eight to go to be the second half’s top seed.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment for the players just because of what happened in the first half and everything we’ve been through this year,” Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca said after Sunday’s win.
“It’s impressive,” outfielder Mike McGee said. “Everybody seems to be doing their part. A lot of guys are coming through in different situations. It seems like a different guy every night. That’s a good thing. Really, things have just been clicking. Pitchers have been throwing well. Hitters have been hitting well. If one has a bad night, the other one will pick them up. It’s just been great. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of. Winning baseball is a lot more fun to play than losing baseball.”
McGee joined the LumberKings in late June — after the All-Star Break — after being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in this year’s draft. Two other draft picks from 2011 — Brad Miller and John Hicks — also joined the team in the second half.
Those three players have combined to bat .286 with 50 RBIs and 61 runs scored for Clinton. The rookies along with a core group of players who have been in Clinton all season and other players added to the mix have turned the LumberKings into one of the best teams in the Western Division.
Midway through the season, Menchaca said the main thing Clinton needed was to change its attitude, its mentality. And he said that’s what they’ve done in the second half.
“I’ve said it since Day 1, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,’ ” Menchaca said. “At the same time, mentally we weren’t in the right. We had mixed emotions in a lot of things. I think we simplified it just to winning series and giving ourselves a chance every night. I think they’ve done that.”
Menchaca, Mickey Wiswall and Stefen Romero said things would change in the second half and they have for the LumberKings. Romero (61) and Wiswall (55) have driven in the most runs for Clinton this season.
Clinton has raised its team batting average from .221 at the All-Star Break to .235 and has lowered its team ERA from 4.16 to 3.68. But most important for the LumberKings is they are winning. They may have needed to simplify their approach, but having a good outlook helped through the tougher times.
“We were always an upbeat group, even when times were tough,” McGee said. “We have a good atmosphere in the clubhouse. We tend to stay pretty positive — even when we’re struggling. It hasn’t really been any different, since we’ve been winning. We’re still the same team.”
They may be the same team in that regard, but Menchaca said he has seen a lot from them during the second half.
“It’s unreal just to see (how much they’ve grown),” he said. “To me the biggest thing is just to see the confidence they have now. If they didn’t know how to play the game they wouldn’t be here. But making sure they’re confident and the best team out there can take you a long way.”
The LumberKings know that either Burlington or Quad Cities await them in a three-game series set to begin Sept. 7.
“It’s going to be something,” McGee said. “My first experience in the postseason as a professional, and it’s neat I get to do it in my first chance. I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s like. It’s going to be exciting.”