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Mud Hens brace for second half with narrow division lead

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The Toledo Mud Hens enter the All-Star break clinging to first place in the International League West by ½ game ahead of the Indianapolis Indians with a record of 49-39.

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Jason Krizan celebrates scoring a run for the Mud Hens, who are in first place in the International League's West Division.

BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

The first season for manager Doug Mientkiewicz has been a success to this point as the Mud Hens played much of the first-half of the season as a first-place team. For a good stretch, Toledo had the best record in the IL.

But the month of June was unkind to the Mud Hens as they limped to a 13-15 record in the month.

And starting with a home series against Indianapolis on June 25, one in which the Mud Hens were swept in three games, Toledo has just a 5-9 record and there is no longer a first-place cushion.

So what has worked well for the Mud Hens so far this season?

Balanced offense: The Mud Hens have featured a very solid lineup all season even fighting call-ups and injuries. Led by Ronny Rodriguez’s IL-leading .338 batting average, Toledo has seven players hitting .270 or better – Rodriguez, Jim Adduci, Grayson Greiner, Harold Castro, Dawel Lugo, and Edwin Espinal, plus Jacob Robson is batting .421 in 10 games since joining Toledo from Double-A Erie. Christin Stewart has provided the power with his IL-leading 15 home runs and a team-high 45 RBIs. Adduci has 44 RBIs and Rodriguez has added 40. Rodriguez and Adduci are currently with the Tigers.

Dominant relief pitching; The Mud Hens lead the league in saves with 32, but it has been a closer by committee ever since Louis Coleman was called up to the Tigers. Eight different relievers have picked up a save this season for the Mud Hens – Coleman (8), Johnny Barbato (6), Zac Reininger (5), Victor Alcantara (3), Phillippe Aumont (3), Kevin Comer (3), Kevin Chapman (2), and Zac Houston (2). Toledo is 45-3 this season when leading after seven innings and 45-1 when leading after eight.

Slick fielding: The Mud Hens are tied for the top fielding percentage in the league at .987 along with Indianapolis and Lehigh Valley. The same three teams have committed the fewest errors in the IL with 47.

What needs to happen in second-half for the Mud Hens to stay in first place?

■ Better starting pitching: The Mud Hens have struggled to find consistent starting pitching lately. In the last 17 games, Kyle Dowdy has three wins, but he is the only starter to pick up a win since Jacob Turner earned a victory on June 22 at Charlotte. The staff should get a boost with the recent call-up of Kyle Funkhouser and Matt Hall from Double-A Erie. Funkhouser should be in the starting rotation, while Hall has been used as both a starter and reliever at Erie. Could more reinforcements be on the way from Erie from the likes of Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows? If so, that would be a welcome addition for the Mud Hens.

Better head-to-head results with Indianapolis: The Indians have had the Mud Hens’ number this season with a 9-4 record over Toledo. The two teams battling for first place have 11 more head-to-head matchups this season. Those could be key in determining the IL West and the wild-card spot.

Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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