The Wingnuts’ end-of-season strategy won’t involve a lot of scoreboard watching or working mathematical equations to figure out the easiest route to the playoffs.
Those aspects of a pennant race will be pushed aside in favor of Wichita’s focus on winning. With a 5 1/2 -game lead and 11 games to play, every victory will push the Wingnuts closer to the postseason.
The Wingnuts’ magic number to clinch the American Association Central was five, meaning any combination of five Wichita wins and Kansas City losses will give the Wingnuts a division title. Wichita’s game at El Paso was rained out Thursday night. It will be made up Monday as part of a doubleheader in Wichita.
Waiting around for the nearest opponent to lose isn’t in the Wingnuts’ formula, either, and manager Kevin Hooper has stressed the importance of clinching the division crown as soon as possible.
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"I do want to wrap this up, I don’t think that’s any secret," Hooper said. "I hope it’s not a secret to (the players), either — I hope they’re on the same page. It makes it nice the last week or the last five days or so, where I can give some of these guys a rest. It makes it pretty nice when you can make that stuff happen."
Human nature will prompt the Wingnuts to check the Kansas City score every night, but Wichita won’t have much urgency behind those peeks because a Wichita playoff spot can be secured by the end of the weekend.
With a sweep of Gary-Southshore paired with a couple Kansas City losses this weekend, Wichita will wrap up the division. Such a scenario would be a near repeat of last season, when three wins over Gary began Wichita’s playoff push.
"That’s what I think, is just win and move on," Hooper said. "But I’m watching. I always look at the end of the night to see what else is going on. But as long as we take care of business, we don’t have to worry about anyone else. If we continue to win, nobody can catch us, and that’s the truth."
Even if the Wingnuts end the regular season on a winning streak, their entrance into the playoffs might not be completely smooth.
Center fielder Mike Conroy suffered a severe lung injury in El Paso on Wednesday after running into the wall while trying to make a catch. Conroy spent the night in the hospital and Hooper said Conroy, one of Wichita’s offensive igniters, will be out at least a week and possibly the rest of the season.
"That’s unfortunate because he’s a veteran," Hooper said. "He’s one of our leaders and plays the game like I want it to be played."
The Wingnuts could make other roster moves before the league deadline at midnight Friday. Wichita currently has a four-man starting rotation and needs a fifth for Saturday’s game and next Thursday.
Wichita also is looking for bullpen help and can acquire a starter and a reliever under the league rule that allows teams to carry an extra player at the end of the season. If the Wingnuts find the right player for either spot, he could be held over for the postseason roster.
"That’s to be determined, I guess," Hooper said. "It might be a case where whoever makes those two starts goes to the bullpen for the playoffs. We’ll wait and see who it is and how much they can help us."