The All-Star break is often considered the mid-point of a baseball season, but that's not accurate.
Truth be told, the Mud Hens are nearly two-thirds of the way through their 2012 schedule, which means Toledo has only faint hopes of reaching the postseason.
The Hens' 37-53 mark is the second-worst in the International League, 19 games behind first-place Indianapolis in the West Division. Toledo's hopes for a wild card berth are better, but only marginally, as the Hens sit 13 games in back of current wild card leader Pawtucket.
That doesn't mean there is nothing to play for in the final 54 games of the season.
"I know it sounds cliche, but until we're mathematically eliminated … I've seen some strange things happen," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. "In two months, Indianapolis picked up 20 games on us.
"Personnel and rosters change a lot at this level. But at the end of the day, this is a career for these guys. When they step on the field, they take pride in going on the field and playing hard."
How did things get so bad for the Mud Hens in 2012?
Well, things started out well as they were 14-9 in April and 20-13 on May 10, clinging to a one-game lead in the West.
Toledo was swept in a doubleheader at Gwinnett and fell into second. By the end of May a 5-16 finish had dropped the Hens into third.
By the end of an 8-21 June, the playoffs were virtually out of reach.
A major cause of the team's decline was its offense. The Hens' .246 batting average ranks 12th in the 14-team IL, and only four teams have scored fewer runs than Toledo's 367.
Nevin said the reason for the Hens' offensive struggles is obvious.
"Our personnel has changed," he said. "It's a different group of guys, and they have struggled.
"Do I think they hit? Yeah, there's no doubt in my mind these guys can score runs."
The loss of Brad Eldred -- and his league-leading 24 home runs and 65 RBIs -- is most obvious.
The Hens also lost hitters such as Quintin Berry, who batted .270 and ranked among the league leaders with 19 stolen bases before he was promoted to Detroit, and Eric Patterson, who hit .244 and had a .365 on-base percentage before asking for his release.
"We had a lot of speed guys at the top, and in the middle we had a lot of power guys who could drive the ball out of the park and bring those speed guys in," Nevin said.
"It's just different now. It's not a knock on anyone or anything, but it's just different."
Since the first of May, Toledo has scored three runs or fewer in 34 of its 60 games and has lost all but five of those contests.
"It's been tough on our pitchers when they feel they have to go out and throw a shutout every time," Nevin said. "We just haven't been scoring enough runs.
"That being said, the defense probably feels that same sense [of having to be perfect]."
The Mud Hens rank in the middle of the IL pack with a 4.00 team ERA. Toledo pitchers have shown talent at this point, ranking second in the league in fewest hits allowed with 727, but also shown their inexperience by ranking next-to-last in walks issued (367) and dead last in wild pitches (57).
"We're a young pitching staff for Triple-A," Nevin said. "[Jacob] Turner just turned 21, [Casey] Crosby is 23, [Andy] Oliver and [Adam] Wilk are 24, and you just don't see that much in Triple-A.
"There's nothing wrong with that -- these guys have earned the right to be here by being successful at lower levels in the system. And they have been successful here."
There have been hiccups along the way, but the starters have posted 43 "quality starts" by allowing three earned runs or fewer in starts lasting six innings or more. The same holds true for the bullpen, which has generally been strong in posting a 3.89 ERA and 18 saves.
"The bullpen has been good," Nevin said. "We've been able to do some matchups things, and we've had guys who can cover multiple innings.
"We've had some good combinations in the bullpen this year. And we have some guys who are young out there, but they have learned from veteran guys like [Chris] Bootcheck and Darin Downs and Zach Miner.
"Chris has been great, not only closing games but in terms of his professionalism and in applying things he's sees on the bench when he enters the game. And our young guys have fed off that."
The defense has struggled at times and ranks 12th in the IL with a .977 fielding percentage.
While the team has done a credible job of turning ground balls into outs -- the team is tied for fourth in the league with 89 double plays turned -- it also has allowed 46 unearned runs, which is seventh-most in the league.
"I think Argenis Diaz has played major-league caliber defense out there, and when Danny Worth is out there I don't think there's a better combo out there defense in our league," Nevin said."
The combination of youth and a struggling offense adds up to a team that has struggled in tight games. The Mud Hens are 7-18 in one-run contests, by far the worst mark in the league, and are next-to last with a 2-6 mark in extra innings.
"This a good team, but it's a young team," said designated hitter John Lindsey. "They're still trying to learn the ropes.
"For young players, going through some struggles can make them stronger and tougher, build some character. We've got a lot of season left, so we'll just go out every night and keep grinding."
Wilk agreed that the Hens haven't given up.
"We want to go into the second half strong," he said. "We can just start fighting and try to get some more wins under our belts.
"You never know what can happen. We could get hot and completely turn it around and become a playoff team."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.