This could be the biggest week for the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the most important month of the season.
August is upon them -- the final stretch -- and with it comes exhaustion and a four-game series with the league-leading Wichita Wingnuts (52-23) that got underway Thursday night at Shaw Park. That will be followed by a three-game home set with the St. Paul Saints (43-31), who sit only three games back of the Fish (47-29) in the North Division.
'We're pretty tired. But everybody should be ready to go, coming in with an opponent like this. I don't think everybody needs a lot of sleep in order to get ready for these next four games against Wichita'
"We're pretty tired," Fish pitcher Nick Hernandez said Thursday after an overnight bus ride from Sioux City, where the Fish wrapped up an eight-game road trip Wednesday. "But everybody should be ready to go, coming in with an opponent like this. I don't think everybody needs a lot of sleep in order to get ready for these next four games against Wichita."
The Fish split series against the Sioux Falls Canaries and Sioux City Explorers to go .500 on the trip.
They dropped first the two games against the Explorers, but managed back-to-back wins in a doubleheader to close it out. Hernandez picked up a complete-game shutout in the second game of the doubleheader.
He said the team made the mistake of looking past the Explorers the first two games because they had the Wingnuts on their minds.
"It's never easy winning a ball game on the road. You're staying in a hotel, you're eating out every single meal, you're not able to get good clubhouse food like it's provided here," said Hernandez, who is 8-2 with three wins in his last four starts.
"We knew we had Wichita coming in this homestand. I feel like our first two games in Sioux City, we were too anxious to get to Wichita."
Batting practice was cancelled Thursday to give the Fish more time to get settled in before the challenging days to come. The players entered the clubhouse later than usual before the game against the Wingnuts -- which is generally the case after a long trip -- trying to gather their thoughts.
"I'm sure before the game everyone will sit in front of their locker to try and focus up," Hernandez said.
Of course, it all starts on the mound. Over a 100-game schedule it's tough to describe two particular back-to-back series as the most important, but the pitching staff knows they need to be sharp on this homestand. Thankfully, starters get individual bunks on the Goldeyes' bus and caught some shut-eye coming back to Winnipeg.
For the most part of the season the staff has been solid, with a lot of the younger hurlers, such as Hernandez, pointing to the veteran presence of Chris Salamida as a reason for their success.
"Every series is big, all these games count," piching coach Jamie Vermilyea said. "Wichita, they've been in the championship the last couple years, so it'll be a good test for us to see where we stand against a quality team. St. Paul, obviously they're swinging the bats pretty well, they're playing good ball right now.
"We've seen them a couple times already, they kinda had our number for a few games, so it'll be good to even up that series just in case there is a tie and (the playoff berth) goes to a tiebreaker. That's where every game counts."