Somebody needed to tell the Wingnuts that the postseason, at least in their case, doesn’t start the day after they clinch a spot.
Twenty-four hours after earning their third straight American Association Central Division championship and much less than 24 hours after the celebration wrapped up, the Wingnuts played as if nothing was secured.
Wichita, behind a balanced offense and seven strong innings from starting pitcher Justin Klipp, beat Grand Prairie 7-1 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The AirHogs are battling two other teams in the South for a playoff spot, but it appeared they were going through the motions while Wichita placed as much urgency on Saturday’s game as the more important ones preceding them.
Instead of taking a much-needed deep breath after 90 games, though, the Wingnuts never turned down the energy from Friday’s celebration, collecting 13 hits and holding Grand Prairie to three.
“It’s good to see,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “It’s historically a night where a team doesn’t show up, but we were ready. I had a good feeling. I usually get a good vibe, or not, when I show up to the yard. We were focused and ready.”
If Wichita needed a boost after a long night of partying, it was provided by Klipp, who needed a performance like the dominant one he posted Saturday.
Grand Prairie struck him for two hits and a run in the first, the possible continuation of a downward trend that saw Klipp post a 5.64 ERA in his previous seven starts. That trend was cracked when Klipp allowed one run in five innings five days ago, and he broke it Saturday by matching his longest start since July 12.
The only AirHogs hit after the first inning was a two-out, harmless single in the third. No runner reached scoring position again, and Klipp came within one of his season high by striking out five.
As the Wingnuts have added to their pitching depth this month by signing James Giulietti and Erik Lambe, who signed Saturday after going 10-0 in the independent Pecos League, multiple pitchers are vying to become the No. 4 postseason starter.
“His last start was pretty good,” Hooper said of Klipp. “Real good tonight, I thought. It’s good to see. We’ve got a decision on our hands about who’s going to be that No. 4 guy between (Klipp) and James. It’s a good problem to have, I guess.”
In addition to roster uncertainty that will be sorted out over the remaining eight games while the Wingnuts go for home-field advantage should they reach the championship series, the end of the season is also being used for players to go for individual achievements.
C.J. Ziegler is tied for the league lead after hitting his 28th home run on Saturday, and though John Rodriguez needs eight steals and three homers, he has an outside shot at a 20-20 season. Several Wingnuts lead the league in major statistical categories, and the team is five wins short of setting the league standard.
“You never want to look at it as an individual thing, but we know what’s out there and what could be taken,” Ziegler said. “As a team we want that (66 wins), that would be nice to cap it all off. We know what we have, and we need to make sure we’re all healthy. That’s the big thing going into the playoffs. In the back of our mind it’s all there, but you don’t want to go out there day-to-day thinking about (records).”
More nights like Saturday will help the Wingnuts progress toward milestones. Eight players had a hit, and Wichita scored five early runs against Gabriel Garcia to force his exit after 2 2/3 innings and 36 pitches.
Wichita was only retired in order in the eighth. Ziegler’s homer put a cap on another strong night for the league leader in runs while expressing that the Wingnuts are giving importance to relatively meaningless games.
“That’s just us as a team,” Ziegler said. “We know what we’re capable of, what’s at stake and what’s coming up. Mentally, we’re not done. We don’t want to shut it down and have to start it back up. We want to hit that accelerator as soon as the playoffs start and never look back.”
|Mozingo rf||4||0||0||0||Khoury ss||4||1||1||1|
|Pinckney ss||3||1||2||0||Kahaullio 2b||4||1||1||0|
|A.Rodrigz 1b||4||0||1||1||J.Rodrigz dh||3||2||2||1|
|Karr dh||2||0||0||0||Ziegler 1b||4||1||2||3|
|Newell lf||3||0||0||0||Clevlen cf||4||0||3||1|
|Pineda 2b||4||0||0||0||Nieves 3b||2||0||1||0|
|Jimenez 3b||4||0||0||0||Bowden c||4||0||1||0|
|Flores c||2||0||0||0||Amberson rf||4||1||2||0|
|Kiniry cf||3||0||0||0||McDonald lf||3||1||0||0|
DP— Grand Prairie 2, Wichita 1. LOB— Grand Prairie 6, Wichita 6. 2B— Pinckney (18, Khoury (14), Kahaulelio (21). 3B — Clevlen (3). HR — Ziegler (28). SB — J.Rodriguez (12), Ziegler (2), Amberson 2 (12). CS — Ziegler (4), Nieves (6). SF — Khoury (6).
|Garcia (L, 1-3)||1 2/3||7||5||5||1||0|
|Klipp (W, 7-3)||7||3||1||1||1||6|
WP — Klipp (1). Umpires—Home, Steve Linton; first, Mike Mazzarisi; second, Joe Stegner.
T— 2:33. A— 3,689.