With the Northern League hitting the midway point of the season in the coming week -- and the all-star game set for Tucson, Ariz. next Wednesday -- this seemed like a good time to reflect on what we've learned so far about the 2010 edition of the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
-- PITCHING -- The starting rotation and the bullpen Fish manager Rick Forney has assembled this season is the deepest we've seen in these parts in years -- and that's still true even with the loss last week of the best pitcher in the Northern League this season, Mark Holliman, to the Boston Red Sox.
While the Fish staff was third in the league in team ERA heading into Wednesday, they've yielded the second least walks (137) and runs (209) this season. What's more, the 322 strikeouts recorded by Goldeyes pitchers this year is, get this, 24 more than the next closest team (Gary).
If pitching wins championships -- and it does -- the Fish appear to have a key part of the puzzle moving into the second half.
-- HITTING -- Outfielder Kevin West and shortstop Wes Long are both in the Top 6 in the league in hitting this season and the club overall sits second only to Kansas City with a .278 team batting average. And DH Juan Diaz continues to do exactly what he's being paid to do -- his 12 homers this year are second in the league.
But there are fissures. As a club, the Fish are middle of the pack in home runs with 40 and slugging percentage (.417) and are dead last in the league in stolen bases, with just 26. (K.C. leads the league with 60).
It's one thing to be slow on the bases but have plenty of power. It's also OK not to have lots of power if you're speedy and can play small ball. Being neither is a bad combination.
-- PLAYER MOVES -- Justin Justice and Price Kendall have made Rick Forney look like a genius this season.
Forney picked up Justice from Joliet, where Justice was languishing, for nothing more than futures. In 17 games since coming to Winnipeg, Justice has driven in 12 runs, scored 11 more himself and he is fifth on the team with a .371 on-base percentage.
And Kendall has been an even better pickup. Discovered by Forney at a free agent camp last spring, the Fish manager gave the raw rookie his big chance when he released veteran second baseman Josh Asanovich last month. Kendall rewarded his manager's confidence. In 13 lifetime games as a pro -- all of them in the last two weeks with the Goldeyes -- Kendall is hitting .354, with 10 RBI and 14 runs scored.
On the downside, Forney's off-season trade that saw Andrew Cruse sent to Kansas City in exchange for centre-fielder Aharon Eggleston would not be a move Forney would make again today.
Eggleston has played well in Winnipeg -- he's hitting .296 and leads the team with 30 runs -- but Cruse has been sensational in K.C., where he's 6-2 with 44 strikeouts and just 12 walks and boasts a 2.04 ERA that is second lowest in the league.
Good outfielders are much easier to find than dominating pitchers. Count that trade as the one that got away.
-- MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE -- Lots to pick from here -- Justice, Kendall, the acquisition of a bona fide big leaguer in reliever Bobby Korecky (8.0 IP, 6 SV, 5K, 1BB, 2.25 ERA) -- but the nod has to go to starter Chris Salamida. Salamida doesn't do anything pretty -- he's prone to the big inning and has a bloated 4.77 ERA -- but he's got great control (45K, 12BB) and, most important, he wins (6-3).
-- BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT -- Second baseman Josh Asanovich was one of the team's best infielders last season. But he hit sub-.200 this year and was hitting .053 in his last 10 games when Forney had finally seen enough.
-- THE PROGNOSIS -- This is the deepest, most well-rounded Goldeyes team we've seen in at least the last four seasons under Forney. They can hit, they can pitch and the defence is acceptable.
Are they good enough to win this city its first professional sports championship since the Fish won the last one, a Northern League title way back in 1994? The jury's still out on that one.
For one thing, this is a club that continues to struggle with consistency and stringing wins together, as their 25-21 record attests.
And for another, the two teams ahead of them in the standings this morning -- Kansas City and Fargo-Moorhead -- both appear to be something extra special this season.
-- Final verdict: They're good. They'll have to get better.
Road-weary club end trip .500
THE Winnipeg Goldeyes wrapped up a 10-game road trip -- their longest of the 2010 season -- with a 6-5 loss to the Kansas City T-Bones Wednesday afternoon.
The loss was the second in a row for the Goldeyes, who now return home to face the Joliet JackHammers at Canwest Park tonight.
The Fish and T-Bones were locked in a 5-5 tie when Goldeyes reliever Drew Shetrone entered the game in the eighth inning and promptly gave up three hits that led to Kansas City's Brian Joynt scoring from third on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Fox to plate the winning run.
Goldeyes starter Ace Walker went seven innings, giving up nine hits and five earned runs. The Fish were led offensively by backup catcher Brett Wallace, who scored a run and drove in three others.
The Goldeyes beat the league-leading T-Bones 10-6 in the first of a three-game series on Monday, but then lost 13-9 on Tuesday and again Wednesday to conclude their road marathon with a 5-5 record.
The Fish (25-21) are third in the Northern League standings, four games behind K.C.
WINNIPEG GOLDEYES (25-21, 3RD) VS. JOLIET JACKHAMMERS (22-22, 5TH)
The Backstory: The Fish lost two of three to the league-leading T-Bones in Kansas City this week to conclude a 10-games-in-10-days road marathon. They were scheduled to bus home overnight and will be an exhausted ball club when they pull into the Canwest Park lot sometime this morning. They'll get a few hours to rest up and then have to be back at the ballpark tonight.
The JackHammers will also be driving all night, but they were riding a three-game winning streak heading into a game against the Lake County Fielders Wednesday night.
Players to watch: The JackHammers are led offensively by outfielder Jonathan Wyatt, who's second in the league in hitting with a .328 average. A 13th-rounder by the Chicago Cubs in 2007, Wyatt has 27 RBI and 28 runs scored in 44 games. On the mound, the Hammers are led by popular former Goldeyes starter Bear Bay, who has struck out 47 while walking just 13 and has a 3.34 ERA this season.