Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper believes his team must win at least seven of its final nine games to reach the American Association playoffs.
Three days ago, the Wingnuts didn't have to make such projections because they were in first place, controlling their own destiny.
After two blowout losses to Sioux City, though, the Wingnuts are back to chasing. They fell 15-3 to the Explorers Thursday afternoon at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, about 13 hours after an 8-3 defeat.
Wichita trailed Sioux Falls by half a game entering play Thursday and were 1 1/2 games behind Lincoln for the wild card, which goes to the team with the second-best overall record if first-half North champion Sioux Falls also wins the second.
"It's going to have to come to a halt immediately if we're going to give ourselves a chance," Hooper said. "It's pretty obvious, if we play the way we played the last couple days, we're going home in nine days. There's no hiding that."
For the second straight day, the Wingnuts' starting pitcher couldn't find a way to consistently get outs against a lineup Wichita shut out in both ends of a doubleheader on Tuesday.
The doubleheader and Adam Cowart's failure to escape the fourth inning on Wednesday meant there was no rescuing Bubba O'Donnell because of a worn-down bullpen.
O'Donnell allowed six runs on six singles in the fourth, surrendered a three-run home run to former Wingnut Stephen Pearson in the fifth and still came out for the sixth inning.
He was mercifully pulled after Sioux City loaded the bases on two singles and a walk in the sixth. O'Donnell allowed 12 runs on 12 hits with a walk and a strikeout.
"Especially the situation we're in, we've got to pull the string early if someone's scuffling, because every game counts," Hooper said. "We've taxed our 'pen and they've done a tremendous job. We need one of our starters to go a lengthy game here real soon."
Ryan Patterson matched T.J. Bohn's solo homer to make it 1-1 in the first, and the Wingnuts had the first chance to break it open.
After retiring the first two batters of the bottom of the second, Sioux City starter David Welch walked the next three, giving Patterson a chance to do more damage.
But Patterson flied out, and many of the other Wingnuts' chances to make a dent in the deficit came with two outs and weren't sustained.
"I thought we put some good at-bats together," shortstop Josh Horn said. "Not too many first-pitch outs. When they're scoring runs like that, you try to work their pitcher, get to the bullpen and see what happens.
"If we put it together a little earlier, something might have happened. That's how it goes sometimes."
In the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, Jae Jung pitched a shutout, his first start since being acquired by Sioux City on Aug. 5.
Thursday, the other player in that trade made a difference. Pearson, who went from Wichita to the Explorers, delivered five RBIs, and his homer off O'Donnell in the fifth made it 10-1.
Pearson said the performance against his former team didn't have added meaning.
"I don't hold grudges," Pearson said. "They did what they did and it was what they had to do. I'm just glad I got my first hit in the series today. We're still playing for something, too. I don't have anything against them."
Sioux City extended the lead with two runs in the sixth, charged to O'Donnell, and three in the eighth against Jacob Wiley.
The Explorers' offense clicked after the two shutouts on Tuesday, also the day the Wingnuts gained sole possession of first place.
The final nine games are against South Division opponents, meaning the Wingnuts can't make up head-to-head ground.
"When you're in first, everybody's coming out to get you because you're supposedly the best team," Horn said. "That's how I feel we've got to play. They're coming out headhunting, so that's what we have to do, too."
Williams lf5110Patterson cf5111
Jones cf5122Suarez 2b5010
Bohn rf6231Cortes rf4010
Cruz dh4230Rivera 1b5020
Alberts ph1000Gonzalez lf4000
Sakamoto 3b3210Delgado dh4110
Brown 2b2110Horn ss3122
Serrano c4230Christy c2010
Kramer c10 0 1Martin c1000
Pearson 1b5225Spiers 3b2020
Totals45 15 19 12Totals35 3 11 3
Sioux City100 632 030 — 15 Wichita100 101 000 — 3
E—Pearson (1), Suarez (2). DP—Sioux City 3, Wichita 1. LOB—Sioux City 8, Wichita 10. 2B—Williams (3), Cruz (5), Delgado (4). HR—Bohn (14), Pearson (5), Patterson (14), Horn (3).
HBP—by Mathes (Jones). WP—Howard. Umpires—Home, Trent Delmond; Field, Tony Senia and James Pattison.
Time—3:18. no attendance