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This article was published 8/7/2019 (276 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Rick Forney can’t escape the feeling of déjà vu. And it’s causing no shortage of pain for the veteran skipper of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, where his clubhouse is once again starting to look like an infirmary.
"We’re not keeping people on the field. It’s just one injury after another and it just doesn’t seem to stop," he said Monday during a candid, wide-ranging chat as his team closed in on the halfway mark of the 100-game schedule.
Such is life in the American Association, where a compressed game schedule, dozens of hours of bus travel and small rosters can quickly take a toll and spoil the best-laid plans.
In the case of the Goldeyes, that would be a return to the playoffs after a rare down year and the quest for a third league championship in the past four seasons.
The MASH unit currently consists of outfielder and former league MVP Josh Romanski, first baseman Dominic Ficociello and shortstop Adrian Marin, representing one-third of the starting nine. Catchers Kevin Garcia and Cody Young have both been banged up recently but are fighting through it, while outfielder Willy Garcia is nursing a tender hamstring. As if that’s not bad enough, a flu bug has been going around, too.
"This has been a very difficult season," said Forney, who was hoping for a reversal of fortune in that department after the 2018 campaign went south by a rash of key injuries and player defections, resulting in a franchise-worst 41-59 record coming on the heels of back-to-back league titles in 2016 and 2017 where good health and winning baseball went hand in hand.
There’s other headaches, too. The team’s most promising young player, infielder/outfielder Kevin Lachance, was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks last month, leaving a gaping hole that hasn’t really been filled.
"The first few weeks of the season, that guy was the straw that stirred our drink. He was our offence," Forney said with a sigh.
"We pitch well enough, we defend well enough, even with people being out of the lineup. We're just not scoring enough runs and pulling away from anybody. The talent's there. We just gotta play better, play more consistent if we're going to play in September." — Goldeyes manager Rick Forney
Then there’s the case of the team’s most tenured player, Reggie Abercrombie, whose season has gone from bad to worse lately. The league’s all-time leader in home runs and RBIs can’t seem to hit anything these days, his average now a team-worst .201, which includes a dreadful 4-for-42 streak following Monday’s game, where he again went 0-for-4 including a strikeout, grounding into a double-play and hitting into a fielder’s choice where a teammate on third base was thrown out at home plate.
He’s been moved way down the batting order, but Father Time appears to finally be catching up with the former major leaguer, who turns 39 next week.
Despite all of these woes, it’s not all gloom and doom. Remarkably, the Goldeyes are still in relatively good shape, at least in the standings. They departed Shaw Park on Monday night with a 28-20 record, which is third-best in the 12-team loop.
No, these guys are far from the Bad News Bears, even if a dark cloud does seem to be following them around.
There is one big problem, however: the only two teams ahead of them in the overall standings happen to be a pair of North division rivals in Fargo-Moorhead and St. Paul.
Since two teams from each division make the playoffs, the Goldeyes are currently outside of the playoff bubble, 3 1/2 back of the RedHawks and 2 1/2 behind the Saints.
Winnipeg has had an up-close look at the front-runners over the past week, with eight straight home games against Fargo-Moorhead and St. Paul.
The Goldeyes went 1-2 against the RedHawks, and split the first four games against the Saints before taking Monday’s rubber match by a 7-6 score.
According to Forney, it’s been a real eye-opener, as the Fish have essentially been treading water against the two teams they’re chasing.
"We are what we are right now. I’m not saying we don’t have enough, but we’re not doing enough consistently to keep up with those two clubs, with what I’ve seen so far. We gotta catch ’em and pass them. We can’t just keep status quo and keep doing what we’re doing," he said.
"If you wanna get in it (playoffs), you gotta beat the people that you’re playing who are ahead of you. Considering all that (has happened), we’re fortunate to be where we’re at. At times we’ve played some really good baseball. But unless we can get super healthy and pick up the pace, we’re going to have a tough time catching St. Paul and Fargo."
Forney said offence has been the biggest worry. The club sits seventh in batting average, with too many players struggling to pull their weight at the plate.
"We pitch well enough, we defend well enough, even with people being out of the lineup. We’re just not scoring enough runs and pulling away from anybody," he said. "The talent’s there. We just gotta play better, play more consistent if we’re going to play in September."
A 10-4 May gave way to a 14-12 June and now a 4-4 start to July. They’ve managed to avoid any big losing streaks — the longest thus far is three games — but they’ve also been unable to string together long stretches of success, with just one four-game winning streak so far.
Some positives include committing a league-low 17 errors in 48 games, and a solid 12-5 record in one-run games.
"We’ve had enough practise at them," cracked Forney, alluding to the lack of offensive power, which means few games where they truly blow anyone out. To illustrate that, closer Victor Capellan already has a league-high 18 saves after notching another one on Monday, putting him on pace to shatter the franchise record of 22, which he set last season.
The Fish will have to get used to life on the road, with 30 of the final 52 games in enemy territory. They’ll wrap up a 20-games-in-20-days span on Sunday, getting a well-deserved day off next Monday.
Ficociello is the closest to returning, with Forney hopefully he can play later this week during a road trip that includes stops in Lincoln and St. Paul. They’ll also see plenty more of the Saints and RedHawks before the season is over, giving them the opportunity to keep pace with the leaders.
Not that playing any of the nine teams in the league who have a worse record than the Goldeyes is going to be a walk in the park.
"Everybody kind of expects Winnipeg and Fargo and St. Paul to be really good. We all care about winning and doing things (to improve the teams)," said Forney. "But there’s more parity in the league this year than I’ve ever seen. More parity than ever. Which is a good thing."
The key, as always, will be staying healthy down the stretch, which is why Forney might be reaching for both the Tums and the bubble wrap these days as he tries to steer his team into the playoffs.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Monday, July 8, 2019 at 10:43 PM CDT: Full write through, updates with Monday game results.