The end of their annual road trip predicated by the National Baseball Congress World Series gives the Wingnuts an outlook for the final weeks of the season, and it has never looked quite like this.
The Wingnuts, after going 11-5 on the road while the NBC inhabited Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, are on pace to shatter the league wins record of 65, set last year by Fargo-Moorhead.
Wichita’s current win percentage, .679, has then on track for just below 68 wins in the American Association’s 100-game season. The league record for winning percentage is .677, held by Lincoln since finishing 65-31 in 2006.
With 12 of their final 19 games at home, the 55-26 Wingnuts have an outside chance at 70 wins. They can probably afford to think big because they lead the Central Division by 8 ½ games over second-place Gary SouthShore and have a playoff spot all but secured.
Wichita can get closer to clinching the division during a three-game series against Gary SouthShore that begins Tuesday night at Lawrence-Dumont.
“All I’m thinking about is I want to finish this thing as soon as we can,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “We put ourselves in that position we always strive for, which is to make the playoffs. (An) 8 ½ (game lead) with 19 to play is a pretty good lead, but nothing is over until it’s over. I’m not going to bank on anything until we make it.”
Many of the Wingnuts’ 55 wins have come in bulk, part of winning streaks that have established their dominance and become less coincidental every time they put one together.
Wichita lost the first game of a Saturday doubleheader to snap an eight-game winning streak; the Wingnuts set a team record by winning 12 straight in July and have won at least three in a row five other times. The streaks add up to 39 wins, more than 70 percent of their total.
“We’ve had quite a few long ones this year, it’s been a lot of fun,” Hooper said. “When we hit, we’re pretty dangerous. When we were over in the Can-Am League, it was fun to watch, especially with the way we were able to pitch. If we can combine both, like the way we’ve done, we’ve won a lot of games.”
Wichita boasts six .300 hitters and its players are battling one another for many of the league lead in many offensive categories. Third baseman Abel Nieves paces the league with a .370 average but trails teammate John Rodriguez 112-110 in hits.
The Wingnuts are also 1-2 in RBIs, with C.J. Ziegler’s 79 barely holding off the 75 from Rodriguez, which includes 18 in the last nine games. Ziegler’s team-record 22 homers leads the league, with Rodriguez five behind.
During the 16-game road trip, Rodriguez had eight multi-hit games and 11 with at least one RBI. He was named the AA Batter of the Week on Monday.
“Icing on the cake for him,” Hooper said. “There’s a lot of guys wanting to get some personal feats this year. …There’s always some fun personal goals that can be reached, can be attained, that the guys want to fight for at the end of the year.”