CEDAR RAPIDS — They’re not going to hoist a big trophy or anything. Not, yet, anyway.
There won’t be a downtown parade.
But the Cedar Rapids Kernels did accomplish something of significance Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Somehow.
Two Father’s Day wins over the Clinton LumberKings secured a postseason spot for a baseball club that, quite frankly, hadn’t shown much spark most of the first half of the Midwest League season. Cedar Rapids won the completion of a rain-suspended game from Saturday night, 4-1, then followed with a 8-1, seven-inning victory in the scheduled game.
“Anytime you can celebrate getting a playoff appearance, that’s pretty special,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman, who survived (barely) a celebratory postgame team beer shower in the dugout. “The boys have enjoyed it, played really well the last five or six weeks. I’m happy for them and this coaching staff.”
If you are counting at home, that’s seven seasons since Cedar Rapids has been partnered with the Minnesota Twins and now seven playoff berths. This one, in this half, was most unlikely.
The Kernels (39-31) were a season-worst 17-22 exactly a month ago. They never climbed above the .500 mark until June 1, losing the next night to fall back to even, winning the night after that and never looking back.
They won 10 of their last 12 games in the half, 14 of their final 18, 23 of their last 32, got some help from others, and here they are. Cedar Rapids actually finished tied with Burlington for second place in the Western Division, behind runaway winner Quad Cities.
But going 6-4 head to head against the Bees gave it the tiebreaker for the wild card playoff berth in the division. Burlington lost two of its final three games of the half to Peoria, including Sunday, which allowed the Kernels to pull one out of virtually nowhere.
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“I think being up and down, especially in the first half, is something you have to prepare for,” said Kernels catcher Ben Rodriguez, who hit a big three-run, first-inning home run in Game 2 to get his team out early. “Nothing we went through is out of the ordinary for a team that’s trying to figure it out. The (final month) we just came into our own. We were always this good. The first part of the year we were up and down, struggling as a team, trying to feel everything out: each other, the league, the process, what we were doing. That’s totally normal.”
Great Lakes and Lake County qualified in the first half out of the Eastern Division.
The Midwest League All-Star Game is Tuesday night at South Bend, Ind., with catcher Chris Williams (the starting designated hitter for the West), first baseman Gabe Snyder and pitcher Josh Winder all selected to participate. The second half commences Thursday beginning with a four-game series at Peoria.
The Kernels will be without third baseman Andrew Bechtold and relief pitcher Zach Neff, both of whom found out postgame they were being promoted to high-Class A Fort Myers. Bechtold played all last season with the Kernels, is stellar defensively and had been much improved at the plate the past month.
Neff got the win in Game 2, finishing 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA here. Replacements for them and pitcher Frandy Torres, who has been sent to Rookie-level Elizabethton, were not immediately announced.
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