Here is my latest e-mail exchange with the voice of the Wingnuts, Steve Schuster:1. Should Wingnuts fans already be ordering playoff tickets? It’s hard not to think about big things given how great a start the team is off to. In fact, I don’t even think you can call it a “start” anymore since we are at the exact halfway point of the first half and the team still has the second best record in the entire league. With that being said though, the Wingnuts currently have a 3.5 game lead over the Saints whom they will play nine times over the course of the next three consecutive weekends. It will obviously be a make-or-break stretch where the Wingnuts could polish off the division very soon, or the Saints could gain some ground and really turn this into a race. There are still many games to be played. 2. Is it fair that a team can earn a playoff spot based only on a performance over 48 games? Is that enough to determine a team’s skill level? Well, I think the team that wins the most games over the course of a season or half season is entitled to a playoff spot, regardless of how long the actual race was. I think where the possible “unfairness” comes into play is if there is a team that finishes in second place in both halves, but does not make the playoffs because there was a different team that was better in each half. Half seasons are common even in the affiliated minor leagues, and it’s not as if they are something new. Managers go into a season knowing that they are essentially playing two seasons each summer and make decisions accordingly. Would it be any more fair if it were just one long season and a team that was in first place the whole season ended up falling short because some of their players were picked up in August and they just weren’t as good in those final two weeks? 3. Will Adam Cowart be a fixture in the rotation or will Richard Salazar push his way back in from the bullpen? Cowart should only get better as he continues to re-stretch himself out in that role after having been a reliever for nearly an entire year. His numbers speak for themselves as a starting pitcher, so I would imagine that he would stay in the rotation. Kevin Hooper had said that putting Cowart in the rotation and moving Salazar to the bullpen is a move that made both aspects of the pitching staff better and that is something I agree with. Now the Wingnuts have two reliable lefties in the bullpen whereas some teams around the league don’t have a lefty in their bullpen period. 4. Will the Wingnuts get to five roster moves this season?If they do it will be due to either injuries or because someone is picked up by an organization. The team has gelled very nicely over the first 24 games and all 22 players have shown that they can contribute. It’s definitely not a bad problem to have. Sioux Falls only made two or three moves all of last season and they won the whole thing. 5. If you had to guess, which player will or should be the first picked up by a major league organization?I would love to see Steve Pearson get an opportunity to play in affiliated baseball. His first three years in professional baseball have all been in the independent ranks, so you root for a guy like that to get a chance with an organization. He works as hard as anyone on the team and does not have any flaws in his game. He and Patrick Brooks stay at the park after every home game and take late-night batting practice to try and get better. You have to appreciate that type of work ethic. 6. Does the alignment of the infield, with Herrera moving to second and Horn moving to shortstop, make the Wingnuts better defensively? Well, I think that was more of a temporary thing to try and give Herrera more of an opportunity to rest his hamstring. I’ve said it before, I think Herrera is as smooth a player as there is in this league. I know some on your website have pointed to his error totals, but as someone who watches him everyday, I can tell you that he has great hands with speed, range, and an arm. There is just an adjustment period right now moving to short from second base and I think the transition will be fine once the hamstring heals. He’s the kind of guy you want the ball hit to in a big spot. 7. Will the Wingnuts find an adequate defensive left fielder? Does it even matter? Greg Porter just won Batter of the Week and had an 8-game hitting streak end yesterday in which he was hitting .514. He is hitting .330 for the season right now and I don’t even think we have seen what he is fully capable of yet. He’ll be the first person to tell you that he’s not Willie Mays in the outfield, but for anyone who doesn’t think he can catch a ball, they should probably take a look at this video at around 30 seconds in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QeBLuhMHT0 8. Will Michael Thompson, who had little to show for several hard-hit balls in the Lincoln series, be as valuable offensively this year as he was last year? Josh Horn went through a similar stretch at the beginning of the season where he was making good contact but just wasn’t experiencing the paydirt he deserved. Horn is now batting .293 and I think Thompson will see a similar improvement if he keeps hitting the ball the way he has over the last 10 days. 9. Do you consider Steve Pearson, who has a high average complemented with a good walk rate, the unsung offensive star of the team? What are reasonable end-of-season projections for him? I don’t really consider him unsung. His work ethic combined with his focus on hitting the ball to all parts of the field this year have produced the results we are seeing right now. Don’t forget that this guy tied for the team lead in RBI last year and pretty much carried the offense in June and July. I think the adjustments he has made for this season have made him a much more consistent player and I think he could be a legitimate .320-.330 hitter by the end of the season with a lot of doubles. 10. The Wingnuts are leading the American Association in runs scored and ERA. With which facet of the team have you been more impressed? It’s fun to watch the offense, especially its ability to hit in the clutch, but the pitching is really the reason why the Wingnuts are in the position they are right now. The starters are not only keeping the team in the game, but they are also giving at least six innings almost every night. That in turn has kept the bullpen fresh and allowed the relievers to thrive too. It will be the pitching that carries this team to a division title and beyond.
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