It's said that after 40 games, major league baseball teams can fairly evaluate their chances for contention and make personnel moves — or hold off on such moves — in accordance to what the first quarter of the season has proven.
The Wingnuts play in the American Association, whose season lasts just 100 games. So after 43 games, the areas in which Wichita can stand pat and still plan for the postseason seem clear. On the other side, the Wingnuts have problems to address — problems that will likely keep them from the playoffs if not met with swift resolutions.
After beginning the season 15-6, the Wingnuts have lost 14 of their last 20 games through Saturday. They're 21-20, trailing Gary-Southshore by 1 1/2 games. Here are the areas of strength and weakness for a team whose stated goal, from manager Kevin Hooper, is to win the league championship:
Offense _ Even in the midst of recent struggles, the Wingnuts' hitters rarely take a collective night off. They have scored at least six runs in a loss seven times this season. Seven regulars are batting .303 or better (through Saturday), and the two who aren't — Josh Horn and Edwin Bellorin — have proven to be reliable hitters throughout their careers.
The key for the offense is for the top two hitters, most frequently Horn and Ryan Patterson, to get on base and give the middle of the order chances for RBIs. Lately, Horn and Patterson have slumped, making runs more difficult to come by.
The Wingnuts are fourth in the league in average (.302), tied for third in on-base percentage, second in doubles and runs and first in walks. The offense is balanced, as only Patterson and Jorge Delgado rank in the top seven in any triple-crown category — Patterson is tied for seventh with seven home runs and Delgado is tied for seventh with 36 RBIs.
Bullpen — The late-innings relievers have kept games relatively close after the starters occasionally let them get out of hand. Recent acquisition Kendy Batista, along with mainstays Eric Gilliland, Jared Simon and closer Josh Dew all carry ERAs no higher than 3.00. They also collectively have struck out well over a batter per inning — 74 in 61 1/3 innings.
Brandon Mathes' ERA is 5.10, thanks mostly to the six earned runs he allowed in 2/3of an inning against Amarillo on June 16. Mathes has allowed an earned run in two of his last 15 outings.
Starting pitching _ When Nick Singleton was on the team, it was almost passable. With his departure to the Mexican League earlier this month, the Wingnuts can't earn a passing grade.
Ryan Hinson and Justin Murray have been serviceable, but that leaves three gaps in the rotation with no indication of who will fill them.
Steve McFarland was signed to pitch Saturday, but he allowed seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. Junior Guerra has a 5.79 ERA and 28 walks in 46 2/3 innings. Chad Sherman's first two professional starts have netted him a 7.71 ERA. Jonathan Ellis and his 6.55 ERA were released after six starts.
Defense _ The Wingnuts have made 44 errors, more than one per game. Delgado is a primary culprit, making seven errors at the traditionally less-difficult first base. Errors indicate an ability to get to more balls on defense, but the Wingnuts need to be especially proficient to protect an already porous pitching staff. Their errors have led to 35 unearned runs, fourth-most in the league.