Toledo Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin argues with home plate umpire Jon Saphire during the ninth inning of a game against Lehigh Valley last month. Nevin was ejected from the game.
In Triple-A baseball, the all-star break signals the two-thirds mark of the season.
■ MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Votes for Jordan Lennerton (.296-13-43) and Nick Castellanos (.282-12-49) are understandable. But Danny Dorn has hit .262 and leads the team with 19 home runs and 67 RBIs. Dorn, a late addition to the IL All-Star team, ranks second in the league in RBIs.
■ MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: No debate here, as Jose Alvarez leads the teams in victories despite spending time with Detroit. Alvarez ranks second in the IL with a 2.63 ERA and also leads the league in walks and hits per innings pitched (0.98) and is fourth with 92 strikeouts.
■ SEASON HIGHLIGHT: After struggling in April and May, the Hens posted a 13-3 start in June. That included a 7-1 road trip in Rochester (3-1) and Syracuse (four-game sweep) June 8-16.
■ SEASON LOWLIGHT: Toledo’s terrible 7-20 April included a 3-15 record on the road and a 3-11 record in one-run games.
■ FOR THE RECORD: The Hens do not have the worst record in Triple-A baseball. Nashville entered play Sunday with a dreadful 33-64 mark and .340 “winning” percentage in the Pacific Coast League.
■ WORTH NOTING: The Hens first eight games following the All-Star Break are on the road (four at Buffalo and four at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). After those eight games Toledo will play 25 of its final 37 games at Fifth Third Field.
— John Wagner
The optimist would say that gives the Mud Hens roughly 50 games to try and reach the .500 mark for the 2013 season. The pessimist would note that there are less than 50 games before Toledo’s dismal, disappointing season comes to a close.
So far this year the cynics have had more to talk about as the Mud Hens enter the break with a 41-58 record.
The team’s .414 winning percentage is the worst in the International League this season, and no IL team has more losses than the Hens. Toledo enters the break a whopping 20 games out of first place in the West Division, although Indianapolis’s 61-37 record — the league’s second-best mark— has something to do with that.
How did this happen?
It didn’t take long for the season to fall apart, as a 1-6 road trip to start the season dumped the Hens into fourth place in the West on April 13, and Toledo hasn’t been able to escape the cellar since.
It’s easy to point a finger at the team’s offensive struggles in the first month of the season. Toledo had a .213 team batting average that month; worse, if you remove Jordan Lennerton’s .277 batting average and the .259 mark of Nick Castellanos, the team’s batting eeeeeeeaverage drops to .199 for April.
The biggest culprits in the team’s slow offensive start were veterans expected to spark the offense. Quintin Berry hit just .206 and struck out 26 times in 25 games in April; John Lindsey hit just .200 that month and, while he had four home runs, produced just seven RBIs; and both Ben Guez (.182) and Kevin Russo (.128) struggled out of the gate.
It didn’t help that two outfielders expected to play major roles weren’t even in Toledo as Matt Tuiasosopo made the Detroit Tigers roster in spring training while Avisail Garcia missed the entire month with a heel injury.
As April turned into May, things got better offensively — but the pitching got worse. A fine 3.15 staff ERA the first month of the season ballooned to 4.28 in the second month, a major reason the team posted an 11-18 May record.
While lefty Jose Alvarez had a breakout month, going 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA, veteran starters struggled as Casey Crosby had a 4.91 ERA, Ramon Garcia posted a 6.82 mark, and Shawn Hill had a 7.44 ERA.
The offense broke out in June, posting a .281 team batting average and scoring nearly 5.5 runs per game. But the pitching staff continued its struggles, as the team’s ERA ballooned to 4.33, and Toledo just snuck above the break-even mark with a 16-13 record.
With just 47 games left this season, the Mud Hens will need a 32-15 finish to avoid a fourth consecutive losing season. While that’s a practically impossible pace to expect any team to produce, there are things Toledo can do better in the final month of the season.
One is play better defense, a contributor to the 68 unearned runs the Hens have allowed. That total is the second-largest in the IL. Argenis Diaz, who has handled the bulk of the work at shortstop, has made 11 errors there, third-most for an IL shortstop, and a revolving door of six second baseman has led to inconsistent infield defense.
And the loss of Quintin Berry to a waiver claim had forced the Hens to improvise in centerfield before Avisail Garcia joined the team. The longer he stays in Toledo, the better the outfield defense will be.
Garcia and his .422 batting average in his first 20 games also is one element that can keep the offense surging forward. The addition of Mike Cervenak, who has batted .278 in 38 games since joining the team, and improvement from Russo (who is up to .206) and Guez (who now is at .262) has helped as well.
While Jordan Lennerton and Nick Castellanos rank among the team’s top hitters, they have struggled in July: Lennerton has hit just .239 this month, while Castellanos is mired at .169. Both need to hit closer to the .300 mark to boost the offense — and boost their chances for a September call-up.
But the most important ingredient to a strong finish is the pitching staff, which is in a state of flux. Injuries and call-ups have forced Toledo manager Phil Nevin to call on 24 different pitchers this season, and two more will join the squad after the all-star break. By comparison, the Hens used just 27 pitchers all last season.
If the pitchers can’t keep Toledo in games over the final six weeks of the season, the pessimists will have more to talk about.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.