There’s good luck, then there’s just being good. A 12-game winning streak needs a little of both.
The Wingnuts’ ratio hasn’t been evenly proportioned as they’ve won a franchise-best 12 straight to approach an American Association record. Wichita was in first place before the streak began and already had three winning streaks of at least four games earlier this season.
Winning 12 in a row is difficult under any circumstances, but if anyone was going to do it, the Wingnuts were high on the list of likely candidates.
“When you do rattle off 12 games in a row, no matter how good you are, I think it takes a little bit of luck,” Wichita manager Kevin Hooper said. “But I also do think we have a very good ballclub. We’ve lost two of our best pitchers and we just haven’t skipped a beat, it seems.
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“It’s fun. Every time I write that lineup out every night, it’s pretty fun to write out.”
The Wingnuts started 30-9 last season then endured defections to the Mexican League by three of its best players as well as injuries and other promotions. When the players returned from Mexico about two months later, Wichita had a losing record since their departure.
There hasn’t been as much to replace this season, but seemingly every move has worked. Jon Link and Ryan Hinson were sold to Major League organizations, but Justin Klipp has a 2.67 ERA in six starts and Ryan Scoles, a late replacement when Hinson left last week, has won his first two professional starts.
It could be argued that the pitching has gotten better in spite of the defections; it certainly hasn’t fallen off. Wichita owns a 2.33 ERA during the winning streak, with four games of no earned runs and another three games allowing two.
“We find good players,” said second baseman Jake Kahaulelio, one of the players who played in the Mexican League in 2012. “It was a big hit last year when lose two guys out of the middle of the lineup and a good relief pitcher left. I heard about it, but I didn’t experience it so I didn’t know what they went through.
“After losing our top two pitchers, Link and Hinson, that’s a big hit. But we’re not going to get down about it.”
The league record of 15 straight wins, set by Pensacola in 2010, is within Wichita’s sights, but the Wingnuts have a ways to go to reach bigger benchmarks.
The minor league record is 29, set by the Salt Lake City Trappers of the rookie-level Pioneer League in 1987, but the Wingnuts already have them beat — sort of. The Trappers had no future big-league players, while Wichita has employed four ex-MLBers this season, not including manager Kevin Hooper.
The Major League record is 26, set by the 1916 New York Giants. While not directly influencing the Wingnuts, those Giants offer a meaningful lesson. New York had winning streaks of 26 and 17 games but finished fourth in the National League.
Wichita is operating as if nothing is guaranteed, even if its 40-18 record is the best in the league by five games with 42 remaining.
“After we won the 12th one, it wasn’t like we were celebrating in the locker room,” Kahaulelio said. “It was just like another win. That’s what I think we stay grounded on. We’re not here to make records, we want to win a championship. The fact is, we’ve got a lot of games left. Anything can happen in those games, so if we get all hyped up or rowdy about one single game, it might throw us off.”
The lineup that Hooper enjoys writing every night is making penmanship the extent of his game-night work. Six players have at least 13 hits during the streak, with Kahaulelio, Abel Nieves and John Rodriguez combining for 53. That trio has 16 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs.
The offense, with a .305 average over the last 12 games, is as efficient as it is dynamic. Catcher Cole Armstrong has nine one-hit games during the streak but has produced eight RBIs. Ryan Khoury’s 10 hits have helped him nab six stolen bases. Wichita’s four-game losing streak this month is a blip on their record, as they’ve won 17 of 21 games.
Hooper relies on his group of veteran hitters for production and to recognize that no long winning streak can happen more than one game at a time.
“We’re just going to enjoy this while we have it,” Hooper said. “It was nice to break the franchise record. It’s just everybody contributing. That’s what it takes when you get on a run like this. I think the guys are just soaking it up.”