Wingnuts’ losses in close games cut into league lead

06/16/2013 7:25 AM

08/06/2014 2:11 AM

A few more favorable bounces or an additional clutch hit here and there, and the Wingnuts could be running away with the American Association Central Division.

Instead, Wichita was 2 1/2 games ahead of Lincoln through Friday in a division in which all the teams are within five games of one another. The Wingnuts have lost eight one-run games, and though their league-best 17-10 record is impressive, it could be even better.

The Wingnuts' most lopsided defeat was an 11-6 loss to Sioux Falls. Each of their last four losses were by one run, so in theory they could be on an 11-game win streak instead of having gone 7-4 during that stretch.

"That just kind of made me think today, we could have 20 wins under our belt," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said Thursday, before the start of Wichita's eight-game homestand. "To lose (eight) one-run ballgames, we've got to find a way to win those ballgames, too. I'd rather be in every ballgame and take our chances, as opposed to the (alternative)."

There probably is no tangible reason for the Wingnuts' occasional troubles in one-run games; occasional because they've also won six such games. Wichita is first in the league in team batting average at .292, a mark that allows for greater success even in late-game, clutch situations.

The Wingnuts also lead the league in ERA, and even though they've lost a handful of games recently in which the bullpen has surrendered leads or given up the winning run in a tie game, the collective performance of the relievers suggests that late leads are more often safe.

Sometimes, like in Friday's 3-2 loss to St. Paul in the second game of a doubleheader, Wichita rallies late only to come up one run short. The Wingnuts had the go-ahead runner at the plate when Friday's loss ended.

"A couple have been tough luck, a couple we just haven't come up with some clutch hits," Wingnuts shortstop Ryan Khoury said. "That's just baseball. We're used to winning those close games — we've been losing a couple, but we'll get it figured out. That's just how baseball rolls sometimes."

The Wingnuts probably won't spend too much time worrying about their one-run losses, unless they pile up so significantly that they knock Wichita out of first place. With all the trends in the Wingnuts' favor, it seems the close defeats have more to do with luck and the balancing-out nature of baseball than anything else.

"We've got to get better at closing out games," Hooper said after Friday's doubleheader loss. "Pretty unfortunate."

Sunday start —The Wingnuts have experimented with several Sunday start times over the years, and even going back to the days of the Wranglers there hasn't seemed to be a time that would greatly affect attendance.

This year, the Wingnuts asked fans on Facebook what time Sunday games should begin, and the overwhelming response was 3 p.m. Since several church groups attend Sunday games, the Wingnuts opted to start Sunday games at 3:16, after the John 3:16 Bible verse.

"Switching up the times hasn't necessarily had that much of an effect," Wingnuts general manager Josh Robertson said. "We always try to base Sunday games around family fun days ... and we had a lot of churches interested in pursuing large-group tickets for Sunday games.

"Three o'clock was the decision by a wide margin that our fans responded to us on Facebook. When we got that confirmation from our fans on what time they'd like to see Sunday games, we decided to get creative with it and start it at 3:16."

Robertson said he hasn't heard from people who are offended by the nod to Christianity.

"We try to keep ourselves away from politics and religion and things of that nature," Robertson said. "We haven't heard any backlash on the Sunday start times, yet."

New additions — The Wingnuts added three players Friday — outfielder Mike Mobbs, backup catcher Scott Dalrymple and pitcher Josh Stone. None have previously played in affilated baseball, and all three qualify as rookies in the American Association.

Dalrymple replaced Stephen Yoo, who was picked up on waivers by Kansas City after collecting five hits and a walk in 27 plate appearances behind starter Cole Armstrong. Dalrymple was batting .310 in the Frontier League in 13 games.

Mobbs, who replaced Tim Rotola on the roster, has played in two Independent leagues, batting .388 in the United League over 94 plate appearances in 2013. After starting both games of Friday's doubleheader, he appears to be Wichita's everyday left fielder.

Stone replaced reliever Tyler White and will take a spot in Wichita's bullpen. He has never played professionally, and he was named to the All-KCAC first team after pitching for Tabor this spring.

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