By JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — The Beach Bums have already hauled in a ton of awards this season.
Now they have just one more left to get: The Frontier Cup. That journey begins today at home with a best-of-five series with Southern Illinois.
The last time Traverse City entered the postseason-- also the only other time — the Beach Bums went all the way to the championship series before bowing out. This time, they hope to go one step further and bring the Cup to Wuerfel Park on a more permanent basis than the temporary viewing it had at the stadium during the 2010 playoffs.
"I think our guys should be proud of the season they had," TC manager Gregg Langbehn said. "I know they're eagerly awaiting Wednesday. The effort and focus was good the last week after clinching a spot."
Clinching a playoff spot — and the overall top seed — Traverse City has been able to align its starting rotation the way it wants it, while the Miners needed to go to the wire to sew up the final postseason spot. However, Southern Illinois' rotation is deep, and there isn't much drop off between their first four starters.
"Southern Illinois is always good and always in the chase," Langbehn said. "They went through a stretch there where they were teetering back and forth, but in the end, they always find a way to win down the stretch and put themselves in a position to win."
The Beach Bums (64-32) have superior numbers in almost every statistical category, although the Miners (55-39) and Beach Bums evenly split six games this season.
The Miners surged in the second half of the season to earn the fourth and final playoff spot after making a series of trades for fortify their roster — especially solidifying its bullpen — since about the time the Miners took two of three in an Aug. 3-5 series in Traverse City. The Beach Bums had taken two of three at Southern Illinois in a June 11-13 set.
The Miners dealt for Brandon Cunniff on Aug. 3 to solve their closer woes. Three of the five players who have notched saves are no longer with the team. Cunniff leads active players with four saves in seven appearances since the deal.
And an Aug. 1 trade with Washington brought in relievers Nick Cicio and Steve Grife, who have been two of their top bullpen arms ever since. Cicio has a 0.71 ERA in 10 appearances and Grife a 0.82 in 11 games.
Another pickup was outfielder Javier Herrera, who hit six homers in 19 games after being acquired in a trade from Rockford on Aug. 10.
The Beach Bums have the luxury of having been in the comforts of home for four straight days, including the league's two off days Monday and Tuesday. The teams travel on Friday before the series resumes in Marion, Ill., on Saturday and possibly Sunday.
"You're in your home routine a little more," Langbehn said. "It clearly helped us in August. We played so well, as we did all year. But you get in that routine of not being on the bus as much and you can eat at home and sleep at home. You get into your normal schedule for batting practice. These guys worked hard to get themselves into this position, but at the end of the day, you still have to win three of five."
Reid Kelly (10-3, 3.27) takes the mound for tonight's series opener. He'll be opposed by the Miners' David Harden (10-5, 3.05), who has won four of his last five starts and hasn't surrendered more than two earned runs in any of his last six. He tossed seven innings of six-hit ball in a 5-1 win at Wuerfel Park on Aug. 4.
Harden was pounded by the Beach Bums' order in a 9-7 loss June 11, giving up 12 hits and six runs — five earned — in five frames. In 2011, he was 1-1 against TC, giving up just nine hits and three runs in 12 innings.
Ironically, Kelly pitched in relief in the Aug. 4 loss, but was fairly successful, allowing just two hits in 2.1 frames of work. In his only other appearance against Southern Illinois, he gave up five runs — four earned — and seven hits in seven innings of a 5-3 road loss on June 13. Kelly hasn't lost a home start since his Wuerfel Park debut on May 27 against Windy City.
Thursday's Game 2 will see TC's Jacob Clem (7-4, 3.02) take on Daniel Calhoun (7-4, 2.52), while Saturday's Game 3 features a matchup of the Bums' Brooks Belter (10-3, 3.52) and the Miners' Cody Hall (9-1, 2.63).