CEDAR RAPIDS — Going into the final day of the Midwest League regular season, it was virtually a given that the Cedar Rapids Kernels would end up with the Midwest League batting champion. It turned out they got the runs batted in winner, too.
Now that’s quite a daily double.
Zander Wiel homered twice and drove in seven as the Kernels strolled past Clinton, 12-2, Monday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium in the finale. That huge day jetted the muscular first baseman past South Bend’s Eloy Jimenez and Bowling Green’s Brett Sullivan in RBIs with 86.
Wiel’s 19 home runs were second to Wisconsin’s Isan Diaz.
“Looking back at it now, it’s obviously cool and feels good to have the most RBIs in the league. That’s a good accomplishment,” Wiel said.
Kernels Manager Jake Mauer asked Wiel if he wanted Monday off to rest up for Wednesday night’s playoff game at Wisconsin. He told his skipper he wanted to play, which turned out to be a clairvoyant decision.
“He called me into his office the other day and showed me the numbers, that I was just a couple behind the top guy,” Wiel said. “I told him I didn’t really care about the RBIs or anything. I asked him if I could play today more because I thought two days off going into the playoffs, back to back ... I didn’t want to be off with my timing.”
It’s better timing at the plate that allowed Wiel, a 23-year-old from Vanderbilt, to up his production in the second half of the MWL season to 15 homers and 52 RBIs. He singled in a run in the first inning Monday, cleared the party deck in left for a two-run homer in the fourth and did so again in the seventh for a grand slam.
“I was glad we could finish off this way, and I could help out the way I did,” Wiel said. “It was cool to have a big game here the last home game.”
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Second baseman Luis Arraez, meanwhile, won the MWL batting crown with a .347 average. He didn’t play Monday.
The 19-year-old Venezuelan was an absolute model of hitting consistency this season. His average, accomplished in 114 games, is third in C.R.’s modern era (post World War II) behind Howie Kendrick (.367 in 2004) and Mike Trout (.362 in 2010).
That’s pretty salty company. Injuries limited Kendrick to just 75 games in 2004, while Trout’s gaudy batting average was accomplished in 81 games, when he was promoted to high-Class A.
“I’m very proud of the job I’ve done, the work I’ve put in. I’m going to keep doing this, keep doing this work until I get to where I want to be,” Arraez said, through teammate and translator Kevin Garcia. “Just being named with those two, who are established in the big leagues, is an honor. I am an admirer of Mike Trout, especially. Just the way he goes about his business and how classy he is. He’s a class act on the baseball diamond.”
The Kernels finished 78-61 overall, 42-28 in the second half, which was second to Clinton in the Western Division. The division semifinals are a best-of-three series, with Game 2 Thursday night (6:35 first pitch) at Memorial Stadium and Game 3, if needed, Friday night in Cedar Rapids.
The Kernels announced a player move prior to Monday’s game, as infielder Christian Ibarra was sent here from high-A Fort Myers to replace shortstop Brandon Lopez, who was placed on the disabled list with an injured left wrist. Ibarra hit .273 in 34 games for Cedar Rapids after joining the parent Minnesota Twins organization from independent Lincoln of the American Association.
He hit .203 in 21 games for Fort Myers, playing Monday and going 0-for-4.
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