CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels lost to Clinton, 5-0, Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
It was the penultimate game of the regular season for both, essentially meaningless. The teams have qualified for the Midwest League playoffs, are locked into their positions.
This is the fourth time in four seasons as a Minnesota Twins affiliate and under Manager Jake Mauer that Cedar Rapids will be in the postseason. Especially considering all of the player transactions, it has been a good summer for the Kernels.
“Yeah,” Mauer said simply, when asked if he was proud of his club. “These guys have battled their tails off. It’s not a team where you’re going to see a lot of these guys’ names on Baseball America’s prospect list or anything. But there are a lot of guys in there (in the clubhouse) who have a lot of heart. They play hard, they come to play about every day. I think the big thing is they play for each other ... Team chemistry goes a long way.”
There have been 53 players here this season, more than two full teams. Only four guys who were active on the opening-day roster way back in early April are still here.
Second baseman Luis Arraez went 1-for-4 Sunday and has wrapped up the Midwest League batting crown. He’s at .347, five points up on West Michigan’s Will Maddox.
The other survivors, if you will, are first baseman Zander Wiel, outfielder J.J. Fernandez and pitcher Sam Gibbons. He took the loss Sunday, though he threw pretty well: three earned runs in seven innings.
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“We’ve had stretches where the pitching’s been pretty good, stretches where our hitting has been pretty good,” Mauer said. “The last time we were in Clinton last week, they both clicked together.”
Cedar Rapids is 77-61 overall, 41-28 in the second half, going into the season finale Monday at 12:05 p.m. It will play Wisconsin in a best-of-three Western Division semifinal series that begins Wednesday up north.
Games 2 and 3, if needed, are Thursday and Friday nights at 6:30 at Memorial Stadium.
“I think we’re playing pretty well, right where we want to be going into the playoffs,” Mauer said. “Knock on wood, hopefully health-wise, we’ll stay good. You know as well as I do that in playoff baseball, anything can happen. Everybody starts 0-0 and faces each other’s best. You’re not facing the fifth or six guy in the rotation.
“It’s a good experience for a lot of these guys. Under the lights in a pressure situation. At the same time, it’s still the same game. We’ve played (139) of these.”
Expect 19-year-old Australian lefty Lachlan Wells to get the ball for Game 1 against Wisconsin. Mauer didn’t want to reveal the rest of the first-series pitching rotation.
Peoria and Clinton play in the other Western Division semifinal. In the Eastern Division, it’s South Bend against West Michigan and Great Lakes versus Bowling Green.
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