'At this level, someone is always watching you, and that makes these games important for a player’s career,' Mud Hens Manager Phil Nevin said.
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What was obvious in June has become official in the past few days for the Mud Hens.
Toledo was eliminated from the International League’s West Division title race with Friday’s loss to Norfolk. The Hens ‘tragic number’ — the number of Toledo losses or Pawtucket wins — that will end the Hens quest for a wild card berth is approaching zero as well.
So what do the Mud Hens have to play for in these final weeks of the season?
Plenty, said Toledo manager Phil Nevin.
“I realize the playoffs have been out of sight for a while, but our players continue to play hard,” he said. “At this level, someone is always watching you, and that makes these games important for a player’s career.”
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While Norfolk is in the middle of a battle for the wild card in the Governors’ Cup playoffs, Tides manager Ron Johnson said his team and the Mud Hens are playing for similar goals.
“Realistically, guys on all teams are playing for the same result — to get to the big leagues,” Johnson said. “I think the media may make a little more out of [playoff races] at this level than players or staffs do, because our job is the get guys at this level ready to play and produce in the big leagues.
“If, at the end of the year, the light shines on us and we get to the playoffs, that’s great. But I don’t think it changes the way [Triple-A] teams approach the games.”
There are a few individual honors the Mud Hens are chasing in the season’s final weeks. For example, Danny Dorn is tied for first place in the IL’s RBI race with 79, while Nick Castellanos leads the league in runs scored with 75. Castellanos also is tied for the IL lead with 33 doubles, which gives him an outside shot at the Hens season record of 39 set by Timo Perez in 2007.
GWINNETT JINX? As a team, the Mud Hens do have one thing to play for — or perhaps avoid is a better term — as the team enter Saturday’s contest tied with Gwinnett for the worst record in the IL.
Based on recent history, that could be bad news for the Hens. Gwinnett won all four games the two teams played in late May.
Worse, Toledo entered Saturday’s contest with a 12-game losing streak against the Braves in games played at Fifth Third Field. Gwinnett has swept the four-game series between the two teams each of the previous three seasons.
That streak comes with an asterisk, though, because a rainout last season forced the two teams to play a game where Toledo was the “home” team despite playing the contest as part of a doubleheader in the Atlanta suburb.
“I had no idea, to be honest with you,” Nevin said when told about the streaks. “I know we are standing together in the standings. But there are a few guys here from last year, and there probably aren’t many guys from two years ago.
“I think those past seasons really don’t matter.”