Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids Kernels clinch sixth consecutive Midwest League playoff berth

Kernels drop Kane County, 5-1

CEDAR RAPIDS — They’ve been playing professional baseball in this town since the late 1800s. That’s a long, long time.

The club record for most consecutive appearances in a league playoff is five. Oops, make that six now.

Or every single year the Minnesota Twins have been the parent major league club.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels earned a Midwest League postseason spot Monday night with a 5-1 win over Kane County at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The victory also cinched the top second-half seed in the Western Division.

That’s important because Cedar Rapids will have home-field advantage in the best-of-3 division semifinals next week. The series likely will be Game 1 on the road, Wednesday, Sept. 5, with home games the following two nights, if needed.

The opponent has yet to be determined, but will be either Kane County, Wisconsin or Beloit. Those three teams will fight it out over their last six regular-season games.

The Kernels can rest position regulars if need be, set up a playoff pitching rotation and try and stay as sharp as they’ve been this past week.

Monday’s win was the club’s eighth in nine games.

“This is what you look for all year,” said Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire. “You want the guys to get better, that’s the main thing. But winning is a part of that. Our staff, our whole staff, has worked really, really hard to get these guys going. This is a credit to our staff and how hard it worked and how hard the players have worked during the season.”

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“It does something to you to win,” said Ben Rodriguez of the Kernels. “Everyone here wants to do well in their career and things like that, but the game gets a lot more fun when you win and you come together as a team. Especially now, the dog days of July and August, it’s tough. But when you come down to the end, and you’re playing meaningful baseball, there’s nothing better than that.”

Quite appropriate that the playoff clincher came with the aid of a couple of guys who have been here all season. Starting pitcher Randy Dobnak is an independent ball refugee who has been consistent all summer, this his 10th victory.

Dobnak went seven innings, allowing just one hit and no runs until laboring in the seventh. That was when Kane County got its run, though the right-hander, who dropped his earned run average to 3.12, made a nice fielding play of a slow chopper to his right to strand two Cougars in scoring position.

“I treat every game the same,” Dobnak said. “I go out there, try and go six or seven innings and give my team a chance to win. But I think pitching the game that gets us to the playoffs is pretty special.”

Rodriguez, who actually spent a week or so at high-Class A Fort Myers before coming back down, had a leadoff double in the second inning and scored the game’s first run later on a Jacob Pearson RBI single. Newcomers Michael Davis and Victor Tademo hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth to create spread.

Davis was the dude who replaced Royce Lewis at shortstop when the first-overall draft pick of 2017 was promoted to Fort Myers in July, adding a two-run single later in the game. Third baseman Tademo was playing his first game as a Kernel, as he came up Sunday from Rookie ball to replace the concussed Andrew Bechtold on the active roster.

The Kernels improved to a season-best 13 games over .500 (73-60) with this win. They are 41-23 in the second half, which is tops in the entire league. It’s good to be peaking this time of year.

“In the clubhouse, I think everyone gets along,” Dobnak said. “Nobody really hates each other, we love each other, we have that chemistry. That brotherhood, that energy from the inside can really translate out onto the field.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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