The Mud Hens have been in first place or near the top of the International League's West Division standings the entire month of May.
It's an odd sight indeed this early in the season, given the organization's not-so-glorious past, but it's also refreshing.
For the first time in recent memory, the Hens actually have a few major league prospects on their roster.
Some day, Curtis Granderson will be patrolling the outfield for the Detroit Tigers.
Catcher/first baseman Chris Shelton, a Rule 5 pickup from Pittsburgh who played sparingly in Detroit last season, could be back in the Motor City soon. He is batting a team-leading .329, with a league-high 35 RBIs.
Right-handed pitcher Sean Douglass, who has had stints with both Baltimore and Toronto, is 6-1 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts. He has proven that he deserves another look.
Second baseman Ryan Raburn has big-league potential - he played in 12 games for Detroit last year - as does former No. 1 pick Kenny Baugh.
However, the right-hander has struggled to regain his velocity since missing the 2002 season with a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.
Still, the Hens have been solid and surprising, despite losing slugger Marcus Thames and pitchers Andrew Good (he has since returned), Chris Spurling and Doug Creek to the Tigers.
Toledo is 27-17 and has won eight of its last 12 games. No one is enjoying the start more than manager Larry Parrish. That being said, Parrish is caught in a Catch-22 situation. The better his team plays, the more likely he is to lose key players.
That's life in Triple-A.
"You get a guy going good in the big leagues and you're thinking, 'This is great,'●" Parrish said. "You get a guy going good here in Triple-A and you start cringing every time you hear the phone ring, because you know you could lose someone soon."
Parrish experienced that situation firsthand last year. Not only did he suffer, so did the fans.
Toledo was sitting in first place on July 31, with a 2 1/2-game lead over Columbus.
The Hens imploded down the stretch, losing 28 of their last 34 games.
One player after another left Toledo.
On July 21, Detroit recalled outfielder Nook Logan. The Tigers sent him back eight days later, and recalled him for good on Aug. 9.
On July 26, slugger Joe Vitiello, angered that the Tigers couldn't guarantee him a September call-up, walked out on the Hens and never returned. Infielder Danny Klassen and pitcher Adrian Burnside left for the Olympics.
In a five-week span, four of the Hens' nine starters were gone, including Thames, and so was their season.
"There's nothing we could do," Parrish said. "The bad thing was, the club knew it. You could see it in their faces. They knew it was over.
"They knew they couldn't compete with the other teams."
Parrish doesn't expect a
The Hens have more pop in the lineup now. Their starting pitching is better. And Toledo's 3.47 team ERA is best in the 14-team league.
Barring injuries or call-ups, the Hens should be able to stay in the race and avoid another late-season swoon.
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