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Cedar Rapids Kernels closing in on another playoff berth
Club has magic number of 1 to clinch the Midwest League’s Western Division first-half championship after a 3-0 win Friday over Dayton
CEDAR RAPIDS — It is absolutely impossible for Cedar Rapids Kernels players, coaches and staff not to know exactly where they are record-wise and in the standings.
Longtime bat-boy Jon Teig won’t let them be ignorant about that stuff.
“Four, Jon-Jon!” multiple players yelled to Teig after C.R.’s 10-7 loss Thursday night to Dayton at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“Four!” Teig yelled back, tucking in his thumb and holding up the remaining fingers on his hand.
They were talking magic numbers here. The actual number is one for clinching the Midwest League’s Western Division first-half championship after a 3-0 shutout of Dayton at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
Dayton leads the Eastern Division, and the teams are split by just one-half game overall: Cedar Rapids with a league-best 39-22 mark and Dayton with an Eastern Division-leading 38-22 record. The clubs have rotated victories in the first four games of this six-game series.
“They’re a really good team over there,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “They pitch, and they swing the bats really well. The remaining games in the series will be very tough.”
The Kernels ended Friday with a lead of 4 1/2 games on second-place Wisconsin in the Western Division. The teams each have five first-half games remaining: for Cedar Rapids that being two games against Dayton and the first three games of a six-game home series next week against West Michigan.
“Of course, we talk about it. We obviously want to win,” said Kernels pitcher David Festa. “Winning is a lot more fun than losing. Jon-Jon talks about it a lot. He’s always telling us the standings, always telling us we’re going to bounce back.
“He’s like our biggest fan. He always gives us motivation to stay in the win column.”
Should the Kernels finish this thing off and qualify for the MWL playoffs in the next few days, that would make it nine straight seasons of doing so as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Kernels and Twins began their partnership in 2013.
Nine in a row is quite a streak.
This team has succeeded thanks to an offense that has produced the most runs in the Midwest League and a pitching staff that has produced the league’s lowest earned run average by a significant margin.
It was 3.12 going into Friday, over two full runs better than the 5.40 sported by Quad Cities, which ranks 12th and last in that department.
“They know. They know what’s going on,” Dinkelman said, of his players. “They know it’s getting close to the end (of the first half) here. You just go out each day, play hard and hopefully win the ballgame. Give ourselves the best chance.”
The Kernels have had six pitchers promoted to Double-A Wichita so far this season and two everyday position players. The roster turned over quite a bit during a recently completed two-series, 12-game road trip.
Another move was made Friday when catcher Kyle Schmidt transferred to Wichita, with catcher Frank Nigro joining the team from the Rookie-level FCL Twins.
“It’s a part of minor league baseball,” Dinkelman said. “Guys get promoted, there are injuries other places, so you’ve got to send guys up or down, whatever. I think everyone gets along well. Whoever comes in next, we’ll get them in there, get them on the program, and they’ll help us out whenever they can.”
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