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Cedar Rapids Kernels closing in on another Midwest League playoff berth

Michael Davis homers, drives in three runs as Kernels (71-60, 39-23) win for sixth time in seven games

Cedar Rapids Kernels player Michael Davis slaps hands with manager Toby Gardenhire after Davis hit a home run during a Midwest League baseball game earlier this season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Kernels player Michael Davis slaps hands with manager Toby Gardenhire after Davis hit a home run during a Midwest League baseball game earlier this season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels have qualified for the Midwest League playoffs in each of their five seasons as a Minnesota Twins minor league baseball affiliate.

The club is on the verge of making it six for six.

“I think you just show up and play every day,” said Cedar Rapids shortstop Michael Davis, who singled, homered and drove in three runs as the first-place Kernels defeated the Kane County Cougars, 6-2, before 3,906 fans Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “You have fun, stay loose. You don’t really worry too much about where you’re at. … You just go out and play and have fun.”

The victory was the sixth in seven games for Cedar Rapids (71-60, 39-23 second half), which pushed its overall record to a season-high 11 games over .500 for the third time this year. With eight games left in the season, the Kernels are 5 1/2 games clear of both Kane County and Beloit and seven ahead of Wisconsin in the race for one of two available playoff spots.

“You look for your team to get in the playoffs, that’s what you hope for,” first-year Cedar Rapids Manager Toby Gardenhire said. “It would be special to get these guys a chance to play in the postseason. I think that is part of the development process. These guys learn from playing games that matter.”

Peoria and Quad Cities — currently second and third, respectively, in the MWL second-half standings — have already qualified for the playoffs by finishing in the top two spots of the Western Division during the first half.

Cedar Rapids jumped on Kane County with four runs and eight hits through the first two innings against Cougars’ starting pitcher Jayson McKinley (8-4). Trevor Larnach – the 20th overall pick in June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft – opened the scoring with a two-run single that scored Akil Baddoo and Michael Helman, who each started the game with singles.

An RBI-single with two outs by Davis scored Ben Rodriguez with the final run of the opening frame. Rodriguez singled home Baddoo in the second inning for a 4-0 advantage.

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Kane County cut the deficit in half at 4-2 with runs in the fourth and fifth innings before Davis homered with a runner on and two outs in the fifth inning, his seventh this season.

“Toby told me to sit on a slider and I kind of got a couple of fastballs to start,” Davis said. “I just stayed with the approach, saw the slider and got a hold of it.”

Cedar Rapids starting pitcher Carlos Suniaga (3-4) surrendered four hits and two runs in five innings of work. Suniaga pitched for Cedar Rapids earlier this season and was promoted on Saturday from Rookie-level Elizabethton along with left-handed reliever Zach Neff, who allowed a hit and struck out three in 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

“Suni has kind of been a spot starter all year, either here or in E-town,” Gardenhire said. “For him to go out there and give us five solid innings like he did, that was huge. Then Neff, the lefty came in and he was dazzling. He was spinning the ball all over the place and he did exactly what we wanted him to do. Go out there, keep them off balance for three innings.”

In other roster moves, pitcher Edwar Colina was promoted to High-A Fort Myers, while pitcher Jordan Balazovic was placed on the 7-day disabled list.

The teams play again Sunday at 2.

AT VETERANS MEMORIAL STADIUM

Cedar Rapids 6, Kane County 2

Kane County 000 110 000—2

Cedar Rapids 310 020 00x—6

WP — Carlos Suniaga (3-4). LP — Jayson McKinley (8-4). HR — KC: Ryan Grotjohn (6); CR — Michael Davis (7).

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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