This summer flew by so hot and rainy, it's hard to believe the Goldeyes are in the home stretch already, but so it goes: 80 games down, just 20 more to go.
That means, as the American Association season gears up for its close, the playoff picture is coming into focus -- and this year, the Fish sit front and centre.
The Goldeyes are 48-32 on the season, first in their division and second overall in the league. To get there, they rode some big hitting, courtesy of guys such as first baseman Casey Haerther and shortstop Tyler Kuhn. As of Monday afternoon, they held the second-best team batting average in the league (.298), the second-best ERA (3.89) and the second-best fielding percentage (.980) too.
Yeah, you notice a theme going on there. Second place, second place. The team above them, in every case, is the Wichita Wingnuts, the squad that's dominated their South Division. They were at Shaw Park last week and ran away with that series 3-1. Now, they're looming in the not-too-distant distance: If the Fish hope to go all the way, there's a good chance the Wingnuts will be the wall they have to overcome.
That's then, though. This is now. The Goldeyes are rounding into the final fifth of their season, and they're in the driver's seat in the race for the post-season.
For most of the summer, the Fish have been perched atop the North Division, though the gap beneath them has tightened. Now, the rival St. Paul Saints are just three games back, as the teams prepare to face each other at Shaw Park. This could be a key series -- for either team.
Here, a quick refresher. Four teams pass through to the American Association playoffs: The three division leaders, and the wild-card team that has the best record of all the rest. Once the playoff contenders have been determined, the first-round matchups come down to geographic location. Which means we have a sense of what the end game could look like.
In the South Division, barring disaster, the Wingnuts look to have a lock on first place. Their nearest competition, the Laredo Lemurs (45-33), were 9.5 games back as of Monday afternoon. The Central Division is shaping up to be a battle, with the defending champion Gary-SouthShore Railcats (43-37) tied with the Lincoln Saltdogs (42-36) for the division lead.
What this means: If the Fish can't hold on to the North Division's top spot, they could be in a wicked battle for the wild-card nod. The Lemurs held it as of Monday afternoon, with St. Paul and Gary sitting close behind. But if the Goldeyes can close out the season as champions of the North Division, they'll likely face the Railcats, Saltdogs or the Saints in the first playoff round.
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While that possibility looms, the Fish are also working on a tight starting rotation.
There are only four men tapped as starters right now, after the Goldeyes released Jon Sintes on Friday, after only five days with the team. That leaves Chris Salamida (who has been spectacular, twice earning the league's pitcher of the week honour in the last three weeks), Ethan Hollingsworth, Matt Jackson and Nick Hernandez on the roster. The Goldeyes only need to carry four starters in the post-season, though.
Sintes was the second player manager Rick Forney tried for the fifth starter spot, after Kyle Anderson was bought by the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this season. That young hurler was a standout for the Fish, with a sparkling 1.64 ERA through 49.1 innings and eight games. It's not easy to replace that kind of pitching, though Forney tried with Sintes, and before that with Chandler Barnard, who they released on Aug. 3.