If the Red Wings are to be successful in their bid to make the International League postseason this year, there are several key players who need to step up front and center.
The addition of Matt Garza will certainly help the cause. Tonight he pitched an effective six innings to win a rain-shortened game against the Syracuse SkyChiefs 7-2. Garza allowed four hits, walked only one and fanned eight to add to his Minor League leading total of 134 strikeouts.
The game featured one brutal call at the plate that incensed the entire Red Wing infield and got Shawn Wooten tossed, and later manager Stan Cliburn. With the Wings leading 3-1 in the third, Wayne Lydon led off with a triple and with the infield drawn in, Luis Figueroa bounced one to 2nd baseman Williams, who threw home and Wooten tagged Lydon out sliding in. While replays showed that Lydon never even touched the plate, the umpire ruled that Wooten missed the tag, and called Lydon safe...adding insult to injury.
Wings offense was keyed by a pair of three run homers by Glenn Williams and Kevin West.
And that brings us back to the necessity of certain key players having to step up during the last 44 games of the season.
With Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Terry Tiffee gone, Kevin West and Glenn Williams need to anchor the offense. Both had brutal first halves, but both are beginning to finally wake up. Williams has five home runs, 25 runs batted in, and a .237 batting average. West has seven home runs, 26 runs batted in, and a .229 batting average. Up to this point, all the power has fallen on the shoulders of Garrett Jones, who has 13 home runs, but is also hitting an anemic .228.
So Williams and West are certainly on the spot as the Wings try and hold on to first place.
With Jason Tyner gone, possibly for the remainder of the season, Andres Torres has taken over the leadoff spot in the lineup He has big shoes to fill, being that Tyner was one of the best hitters in the International League at the time of his promotion. He is currently hitting .255 but has an on-base percentage of .328. However, he has also fanned 50 times, which is a lot for a leadoff hitter.
Thomas Watkins, who was basically just a reserve call-up a few weeks ago, has completely taken Luis Maza’s job. In his first shot at AAA, he is starting to impress. His batting average is .321, and his on-base percentage is a sparkling .392. He has also hit very well with runners in scoring position. He is going to be a key player in the Wings’ success.
Another key player is Alexander Romero. Playing everyday has helped, and while his batting average is not good, he has come a long way and will be needed down the stretch.
Robert Korecky is another name to look at, as he has the unenviable task of replacing Patrick Neshek. So far so good, as he is certainly not as flashy, but has done very well so far.
Boof Bonser is another key to the Wings success, as he is probably here until the September call-ups, and with JD Durbin likely done for the year, Bonser has to have a good finish.
Mike Smith, which has been the surprise of the staff, has become the ace at 8-4. He has been unbeatable in his last few starts, and the Wings hope he stays that way.
The team will face its biggest challenge starting Friday, when the Louisville Bats come to town for four games followed by Charlotte for four games. The Bats are also battling for first in their division, and are also a Wild Card contender. The Red Wings lead over Scranton is just two games, and the Wings would no longer be assured of a Wild Card spot if they don’t win the division. The Wings have to be clicking on all cylinders for the next eight days, and the above mentioned players will certainly be asked to shoulder a lot of the load.
After 100 games, the team is a very decent 57-43. Considering all the players that we have lost, I would say Stan and Stu Cliburn get an A+ for their efforts so far.
Friday’s game features a post-game performance by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra followed by a gala fireworks display. A sellout crowd is expected.
Go get ‘em Wings!!