With 30 wins in 50 games at the halfway point of the American Association baseball season, finding ways to ride through the slumps and the streaks has been the same as finding ways to win for the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The Goldeyes (30-20) will open the second half of the season on Thursday at 7 p.m. when the St. Paul Saints visit Shaw Park for the first of a four-game set between the two teams. Those games will conclude the 12-game home stand in which the Goldeyes, which have won four straight games, have a 4-4 record after being swept by the Fargo-Moorhead RedSox and then sweeping the Sioux Falls Pheasants.
"Our guys have had a great first half and hopefully we can build off the way we finished here, start off good against St. Paul and see if we can get another 30 wins in the second half," said Goldeyes manager Rick Forney.
A 60-win season is what the Goldeyes had last year, a franchise best that included a record 33 at home, which was good enough to win the North division and earn a berth in the AA semifinals.
The Goldeyes had an identical 30-20 record at the 2011 halfway point but unlike last season, the Goldeyes are in first place in the North division this year. It’s a one-game lead over Fargo (29-21), who have won eight straight.
An injury on June 16 to third baseman Amos Ramon forced major position adjustments for the remaining 10 Goldeyes position players. Forney had signed Josh Mazzola at the start of the season to be the team’s everyday right fielder but Mazzola has found himself working as an infielder. He has played 27 games in the infield -- 10 at third base and 17 at first base -- and just 21 games in right field.
"It’s real good to go out and get 30 wins in the first half. We’ve still got to keep our eyes on making the playoffs and I think that’s a good start to do so," said Mazzola, who hit his seventh home run of the season in Tuesday’s 11-3 win over Sioux City. He’s second on the team behind centre-fielder Chris Roberson, with eight.
"We went through that little rough patch but we’re starting to get it going. Players are being accountable for themselves and the way we’re going out and competing every day."
The "rough patch" was five straight losses on July 1 at Wichita followed by losses to Fargo at home on July 3-6.
The team won four in a row May 29-June 1, won six straight games June 7-12 and won five straight on June 25-30. The only other losing streak was when it lost four in a row June 13-16.
"That (losing and winning streaks) is not a secret to us. (People) can’t take winning streaks and winning baseball games for granted," Forney said. "Sometimes you win baseball games that you shouldn’t win. We did that a lot in the first two weeks, especially in Texas. We stole some games that we probably didn’t deserve to win, but it happens. Sometimes you get in those little spells where you can’t do anything right to win a baseball game."
Forney brought his players in because he believes they can play and win, so he has worked with them to help them bring their games around in those tough spells.
"Self-evaluation is not always the strongest suit of players at this levelb and you have to be patient with them, talk them through it and play them through it," Forney said.
"Eventually, if you’re in the right surroundings and you’re positive enough, they’ll play through it."
Highlights of the first half include Canadian infielder David Narodowski of Vancouver earning the starting shortstop position and Price Kendall shining at second base, after being moved there from shortstop, and playing hard through multiple ailments to his right leg that have spectators cringing every time he slides into a base, which is nearly every at-bat.
Kendall and catcher Luis Alen are the team’s resident iron men, playing in all 50 games. Alen has played 45 games crouching behind the plate and is hitting .306.
Five players are hitting better than .300 -- Alen, Yurendell de Caster (.347), Kyle Day (.337), Jon Weber (.321) and Chris Roberson (.302). Mazzola is hitting .299.
Starting pitchers Ace Walker (6-5), Chris Salamida (6-4) and Matt Rusch (8-2) have been steady performers. Forney likes his bullpen overall but he's seen games slip away with spotty relief action. However, Forney said scoring more runs on those nights would have righted the ship.
Leadership in the field and at the plate has come from veterans Roberson and Weber, who set examples every day of being a professional by the way they carry themselves.
The Goldeyes could welcome back two injured players in the next week. Depending on their health, closing pitcher Nick Carr (shoulder) could be eligible to come off the inactive list on Friday while Ramon (shoulder) could come off July 18.