CEDAR RAPIDS — Finally .500. Forcefully.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels left no doubt Sunday afternoon, setting season highs in runs and hits and crushing Peoria, 14-1, on a perfect weather day at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Winning as many games as you’ve lost as we approach June might not sound like much, but the Kernels haven’t been here since the second day of the Midwest League season. A win April 5 over Peoria made them 1-1.
They’re 25-25 now, still hanging around the playoff chase with three weeks left in the first half. Quad Cities has virtually locked up first place in the Western Division, but second place and the other available postseason spot is up for grabs.
Cedar Rapids trails Burlington by just three games for that, with two other teams in between them.
“I think we’re just playing loose,” said Kernels third baseman Andrew Bechtold. “I think early on when it’s cold and everything is going (bad), people start to press. But now we’re in the full swing of things. We’re getting good weather, we’re getting good crowds, and everyone has kind of loosened up a little bit. Things are starting to come together.”
The Kernels are 9-3 in their last 12 games, with one more encounter with Peoria remaining to wrap up their four-game series. That’s Memorial Day at noon.
Then it’s a 13-game road trip, the longest of the season. That will tell a ton.
Pitcher Blayne Enlow said Sunday he’s being promoted to high-Class A Fort Myers, so that takes a key piece out of the starting rotation. There’s still good guys around, such as Josh Winder, who moved his record to 3-1 and lowered his earned run average to 3.17 with seven innings of solid ball in this one.
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He allowed just four hits and a run, striking out seven. The offense really has picked up the past two weeks, too, as each guy in the lineup had at least one hit in this game.
Yeltsin Encarnacion, Gilberto Celestino and Michael Davis had three each, with Encarnacion hitting a three-run home run. Davis just came off the IL, which will help the middle infielder, as should the presence of highly regarded shortstop prospect Wander Javier, who joined the team Saturday from extended spring training.
A lot of good vibes all around.
"The last two weeks have been a lot better,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “We kind of got down there a few games below .500 a couple of weeks ago, but the boys have been battling lately, been having good at-bats, the offense has kind of come around the last few games. The pitching is still doing what they’ve been doing. It’s good to get back to .500. Let’s see now if we can get over it a few games.”