CEDAR RAPIDS — Let’s just put it out there right away. The Midwest League playoffs are an absolute crapshoot.
You roll ‘7’ right away in back-to-back games, and you’re done. You get hot and roll a bunch of ‘6s’ and ‘8s’, and you raise a trophy and get a ring.
If you’re not familiar with craps, ‘7s’ are bad, while ‘6s’ and ‘8s’ are good.
Speaking of ‘6s,’ this is the sixth consecutive year the Cedar Rapids Kernels are a playoff team, a club record. That would be every single year they’ve been affiliated with the Minnesota Twins.
“I told the guys you can play baseball for a long time, and sometimes you think these playoff spots are easy to get,” said Kernels Manager Toby Gardenire. “That it’s easy to do this. That’s not true. I played for a long time and played a lot of seasons where it’s like, crap, you’re just wishing you could get back in a spot like we’ve got right now. It’s a pretty cool deal.”
The Kernels open their best-of-3 Western Division semifinal series Wednesday night at the exact place they ended their regular season: Pohlman Field in Beloit, Wis. The Beloit Snappers won two of three games over the holiday weekend to secure the final playoff spot in the division, via tiebreaker (head-to-head season record) over Kane County.
The Snappers and Kernels had to wait out a six-hour rain delay Monday/Monday night to get in their ultra-important finale, which Beloit won, 3-2, to get in. First pitch Wednesday night is 6:35, with Jhoan Duran the starting pitcher for C.R.
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Beloit has not announced a starting pitcher. Game 2 swings back Thursday night to Veterans Memorial Stadium, as would a winner-take-all Game 3 on Friday night.
The Kernels led the MWL with a 45-25 second-half record, going on a very late eight-game win streak before dropping their final two in the regular season. Playing well in the second half usually gives you a leg up in the playoffs, but not always.
Ten players began the season here way back in early April and are still around. A couple (pitcher Tyler Watson and catcher-infielder Ben Rodriguez) got a taste at high-A Fort Myers before being assigned back to Cedar Rapids.
Duran (2-1, 2.00 ERA in six Kernels starts) and outfielder Gabriel Maciel are season-long Midwest Leaguers, beginning with Kane County before being involved in a trade between the Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks that moved them to the Kernels.
“I think (winning) just comes with our leadership up top with Toby and all the guys, the core of guys who have been here all year,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve just established a way of going about our business, having a good time and winning ballgames. That says a lot. When you really want to win as a minor leaguer, that says a lot. It’s fun. It’s definitely a good team to be on right now.”
“Yeah, credit it to a lot of the guys that have been here,” agreed Gardenhire. “We’ve got a core of guys who have done a really good job. No matter who comes in or comes out, everyone seems comfortable when they get here. That is credit to the guys we have, like (outfielder Akil) Baddoo. Some of these guys have been around a long time (here), they are good teammates, and they are good people. Guys come in, they jump right in there, and it’s like you’ve had them all year.”
Promotions moved a lot of good players out of here in the second half, but their replacements have more than capably filled in. Second baseman Michael Helman and shortstop Michael Davis have provided impact bats, as have catcher Ryan Jeffers and outfielder Trevor Larnach, Minnesota’s top two 2018 draft picks.
“The players that have come in, it takes players to buy into what you want to do, and that’s what they’ve done,” Gardenhire said. “I give those guys credit, because they’ve bought in all year.”
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The winner of this series plays the winner of the Quad Cities-Peoria series in the Western Division finals, beginning Saturday. In the Eastern Division, your semifinal series pit West Michigan against Great Lakes and Bowling Green against Lansing.
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