If American Association rosters allowed more than 22 players, this weekend would be a prime opportunity for the Wingnuts to rest their regulars.
With two reserves available, Wichita manager Kevin Hooper will likely give time off to the starters wherever he can find it. The final three games of a season have scarcely been as meaningless, so the object of the final weekend is to ensure that the players are fresh, but sharp, in time for the postseason.
All the season-ending three-game series against Kansas City will serve to accomplish is for the Wingnuts to find out who their opening-round opponent will be.
Through Thursday, Laredo, Grand Prairie and Amarillo were all within one game of each other in the South Division with either three or four games to play. The Wingnuts will travel to one of those Texas towns for the first two games of the series on Wednesday and Thursday before returning home for up to three weekend dates in the best-of-five matchup.
The Wingnuts have already clinched home-field advantage if they should advance to the championship series, because no team can reach their 65 wins.
Wichita’s dominance has been so pronounced that they have a 9 ½-game lead in the Central Division and second-place Gary SouthShore is 2½ games ahead of Winnipeg for the wild-card spot.
The Wingnuts can’t even play spoiler over the final weekend because Kansas City fell out of the race weeks ago.
“I know we’ve kind of wrapped up the division title, but it’s still fun to go out there and win every day and play good baseball and enjoy yourself out in the sun,” Wingnuts backup catcher Johnny Bowden said after a win this week.
Clinching the division with time to spare has allowed the Wingnuts to get their pitching in order before the playoffs. Junior Guerra, second in the league in strikeouts, gets the nod as Game 1 starter on the road with a chance to set the tone for the series.
Guerra has seemingly gotten past the inconsistencies that kept him from emerging as Wichita’s true ace earlier in the season, and more frequent use of his mid-90s fastballs has masked any of those troubles that may remain.
Guerra has pitched in relief over the last 10 days or so, allowing him to stay sharp but minimizing his innings. In two years with Wichita (2011 and ’13), Guerra has pitched 251 1/3 innings. In his four other professional seasons, Guerra has totaled 89 2/3 innings.
Chris Smith, a former major-league reliever, follows Guerra in the rotation and rookie Justin Klipp gets the first start at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
“In my mind, between (Smith) and Junior and (Anthony Capra) and Klipp, all of our starters, I feel like, are throwing the ball real well,” catcher Cole Armstrong said last weekend. “I feel like we don’t have an ace, we have five of them.”
Saltdogs 6, Wingnuts 5 — Lincoln rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth against Wingnuts closer Josh Dew to beat Wichita on Friday night in Lincoln, Neb. Mike Coles led off the inning with a double, then moved to third on a single by David Espinosa. Curt Smith walked to load the bases, then Ian Gac’s two-run single ended the game.
|Khoury ss||5||1||1||0||Coles cf||4||2||2||0|
|Kahaullio 2b||5||0||1||0||Espinosa 2b||5||1||1||0|
|Rodriguez dh||5||1||1||0||Smith 1b||4||0||3||0|
|Ziegler 1b||2||1||0||0||Gac dh||5||1||2||2|
|Clevlen cf||4||1||0||1||Joynt rf||4||0||1||1|
|Beaird lf||0||0||0||0||Forgatch lf||4||1||2||0|
|Nieves 3b||4||0||2||1||Pounds 3b||4||1||2||1|
|Armstrong c||4||1||2||1||O’Connell c||4||0||1||1|
|Bowden c||0||0||0||0||Gomez ss||4||0||1||1|
E— Coles (2), Esppinosa (20). DP— Lincoln. LOB— Wichita 7, Lincoln 10. 2B— Coles (11), O’Connell (8). 3B — McDonald (3). HR — Armstrong (8). SB — Espinosa (12). CS — Coles (2).
WP — Smith (7). Umpires—Home, Mike O’Leary; first, Mitch Morgan, third; Tony Solssa. T— 3:01. A— 4,696.