CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels have been here before. About two months ago.
They had 17 regular-season games remaining going into Friday night’s 3-0 win over Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium and were in control of their own destiny when it comes to getting into the Midwest League playoffs.
If that sounds familiar, it should, since the Kernels were in exactly the same spot with 17 to go in the first half. A late tailspin (a 6-11 record, specifically) prevented them from qualifying.
If history repeats itself, again they’ve only got themselves to blame.
“It’s very similar. Yep. Very similar,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. “What do we have, 17 games left? We’re playing against teams that we’re chasing or are chasing us. This is a big series. All of them are.”
Cedar Rapids (67-56 overall, 31-23 second half) came into this three-game series with very little chance at finishing first in the MWL’s Western Division, a full eight games back of Clinton. But the LumberKings clinched a postseason spot in the first half, so in this instance, second place is like first.
Burlington is in third place in the division, now three games behind the Kernels but holding the second available playoff spot in the West. Quad Cities is two back of the Bees and Wisconsin four.
Even more good news, at least you’d think, is that the Kernels have nine remaining home games to seven roadies. But that hasn’t been a positive in the second half, as they have a better road record (18-10) than home record (13-13).
Don’t ask their manager why.
“That’s a great question,” Mauer said. “It’s hard to put a finger on it. For whatever reason, we don’t seem to score a lot of runs here than when we’re gone. We seem to pitch better on the road and don’t pitch so well here. I don’t know why that is. Each of our three previous teams have played well here. I don’t know why this team has been so bad.
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This was Hawkeye Night, with the Kernels wearing black, white and gold jerseys that closely resembled University of Iowa football jerseys. The numbers on the front of the shirts were as large as on the back.
Starting pitcher Lachlan Wells (5-3) threw 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball to get the win. Williams Ramirez and Anthony McIver finished up the five-hitter, with McIver pitching the ninth inning for his ninth save.
Third baseman Nelson Molina went 4-for-4 with all three RBIs. Second baseman Luis Arraez was 2-for-3 to increase his league-leading batting average to .349.
“It means a lot,” Molina said of his career-best game. “I think it is one of the greatest nights I’ve had as a pro. It’s unbelievable. We know how important this week is for us. I’m trying to play 100 percent every time I go to the field. Having this night tonight means a lot.”
The teams play again Saturday night at 6:35.
“I think we’re a little (upset) about what happened in the first half,” Molina said. “We understand what’s happening now, understanding that we’re kind of in the same spot. But hopefully we’re going to make it. Everyone is excited about what we’re doing. Everyone is giving their 100 percent every time on the field to make the playoffs and get a ring.”
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