By Brenden West
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
CLINTON — Win games, then win series; win enough series and Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca believes his club will be poised for a fifth consecutive Midwest League postseason run.
“The expectation, now, is to finish better than we did in the first half,” Menchaca said. “To do that, we have to find a way to win more series and find ways to sweep teams. If you have a chance to win a series, a chance to sweep somebody, you’re bound to make the playoffs.”
With a 33-36 start to the season, the LumberKings were good enough for fourth place in the first half of the Midwest League’s West Division standings. A few things will work in Clinton’s favor to meet the playoff goal, primarily the fact that all records are wiped out for the second half of the season and their are two fewer teams in each division in the playoff hunt because the top two teams in the first half already qualified.
It means the LumberKings’ sluggish 4-7 start to the season — and another six-game losing streak to end May — may not cause too much harm later. With the restart, Clinton can possibly finish as low as fourth in the standings and still hold playoff hopes. And so far the team has four of its All-Stars (outfielders Jabari Henry and Dario Pizzano, catcher Tyler Marlette and pitcher Tyler Pike) to play with.
But with key contributors Brock Hebert, Patrick Kivlehan and Grady Wood already getting the call to High-A, it’s created a few holes for Menchaca to fill.
He isn’t worried, though. All players need to do, he said, is work hard.
“The winning will take care of itself,” he said. “It’s not about ‘winning first.’ It’s get better.
“You expect things to be better in the second half. You expect to come to the ballpark and know that we’re not going to do the same things as in the first half. Little things that got us in holes in the first half, we’re expecting not to do that anymore.”
And, even without the “win first” mentality, “We’re expecting to win more ballgames,” Menchaca said.
To do that, the LumberKings will rely on continual development and a few new arrivals from the Short Season-A Everett AquaSox.
In 10 days since the break, Clinton moved up middle infielder Martin Peguero (19, from the Dominican Republic) to help fill in for Hebert. Newcomer Mark Bordonaro has made four late-game appearances and looks to be the heir apparent to Wood. And recently acquired Hawaiian Charles Kaalekahi already started twice and is 1-0 in three games; he’ll likely vie for a spot in the rotation along with Venezuelan Victor Sanchez, who recently returned from injury.
At 5-1 since the restart, the coaching staff likes the second half product thus far. Menchaca attributed that to development and expects to see more.
“The guys understand themselves as ballplayers now,” he said. “They’re getting better, they know what to get better at. So now, it’s just putting it out there and seeing what we can do.”
Despite the hot start, other teams are keeping pace. In the Western division, Cedar Rapids leads with 6-0, while Beloit and Quad Cities are tied with Clinton for second place.
However, if those standings hold, it would mean the LumberKings would clinch with both the Snappers and Kernels receiving bids in the first half.
But there’s still a lot of season left, and if one thing hasn’t changed it’s the team’s game-to-game approach.
“We don’t talk about it. We just talk about what’s ahead of us right now,” Menchaca said.